04/11/2008 12:00AM

Florida Cup stars create buzz


Florida's three racetracks annually program a day with multiple stakes for statebreds. Calder Race Course conducts the Florida Million in November. Gulfstream co-hosts the Sunshine Millions - for Florida- and California-breds - in January, and Tampa Bay Downs offers Florida Cup Day in April.

Florida Cup Day does not have the monetary endowments of the other two, but it has been popular with breeders, owners, and fans since its inception seven years ago. This year's Florida Cup Day, run last Saturday, was no exception. The crowd of 7,406 and the overall handle of $6.3 million were records for the event.

There were six stakes on the card: short, long, turf, and dirt. Each carried a purse of $85,000. Usually, these races attract hard-knocking older horses and wannabe prime-time players. This year was no exception. It was the young wannabes, however, who created the subsequent buzz.

Live Oak Stud has a potential graded stakes winner in the 3-year-old El Sultry Sun. The Eltish colt is out of one of Live Oak's blue-hen broodmares, Sultry Sun, by Buckfinder. Sultry Sun is the dam of the Grade 1-winning millionaires Sultry Song and Solar Splendor, and the Grade 3 stakes winner Strategic Mission.

El Sultry Sun had started twice, both races on the turf, prior to competing in the Sophomore Turf, a 1o1/16-mile turf race. The colt won his maiden at first asking this past July at Belmont. He made his second start March 1 at Gulfstream and lost by a neck to Highly Honored. While the victory margin of El Sultry Sun on Saturday was only a half-length, the colt apparently only does what he has to do.

Live Oak Stud confirmed that El Sultry Sun is Sultry Sun's final foal. The mare had been pensioned and died last month.

Repent, who stands at the Vinery, sired his fifth stakes winner when the 3-year-old gelding Repenting won the Sophomore Sprint, running seven furlongs in 1:22.79, close to the track record of 1:22.28. It was the third straight win for Repenting since being claimed for $25,000 on Feb. 28.

The day's final race on Florida Cup Day was for maiden 3-year-old colts and geldings going a mile on the turf. It turned out to be a tour de force for the Irish Acres Farm homebred Tour Ireland, who was making his second start. The bay colt made his debut March 19 for a $50,000 claiming tag. Off slowly, he trailed for most of that 1 1/16-mile turf journey, zig-zagged from the far turn to the top of the stretch, then came in and sideswiped two horses on his way to a 2 1/4-length victory. The stewards took little time disqualifying him to fourth place.

This time, in a maiden special race, Tour Ireland tended to business, rallying from off the pace to win in hand by five lengths.

From the final crop of Tour d'Or and out of an unraced three-quarters sister to the 1998 Eclipse champion grass horse Buck's Boy, Tour Ireland is a serious wannabe. Noel Hickey is the owner of Irish Acres Farm and the trainer of Tour Ireland. When asked why he risked losing the horse in a $50,000 maiden claimer, Hickey said with a smile and touch of humor in his voice: "I wanted to win a race at Tampa Bay Downs; I didn't want a goose egg for the meeting. I don't think anyone has ever claimed a first-time starter at Tampa Bay Downs for $50,000, so I was pretty sure I was safe."

Kelly McGee, the dam of Tour Ireland, is waiting to foal to Afleet Alex and has a yearling by Pleasant Tap.

* The under-tack shows for the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s spring sale of 2-year-olds in training, to be held April 21-24, begin Tuesday, when Hip Nos. 1-346 will be on the track. The under-tack shows continue Wednesday (347-690), Thursday (691-1,036), and Friday (1037-1,381). All four under-tack shows have a 9 a.m. starting time.