04/07/2005 12:00AM

Vous dangerous off last on deep Florida Cup card


Any horseplayer who remembers the good old days, when racetracks carded only nine races a day and every field was full, had to enjoy looking at the entries for Saturday's third annual Florida Cup program at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Florida Cup is a series of six $75,000 stakes races restricted to Florida-breds. Each race drew at least 12 horses.

The question is whether the recent strangles scare at Tampa and the ongoing strangles situation that has plagued Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows will affect the field sizes by post time.

Toscani, the morning-line favorite in the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes, is currently among trainer Scott Lake's horses under quarantine at Gulfstream and will not start. In addition, any other horse shipping in for the race must pass health tests to be allowed on the grounds.

If the Florida Cup card holds together, it will be a bettor's dream - highlighted by the 1 1/16-mile Ogle and Company Turf Distaff Stakes. The race drew 14 entries and 12 will start, including Vous, who comes off a third-place finish behind Honey Ryder in the Grade 3 The Very One Handicap at Gulfstream. Honey Ryder flattered Vous's effort by returning to win the Grade 2 Orchid Handicap last weekend.

, who was beaten a length by Valentine Dancer in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf earlier this winter, will be ridden by T.D. Houghton.

Marwood, who defeated Vous when second in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf, also figures to get plenty of support with former Eclipse Award-winning jockey Eddie Castro coming over from Gulfstream to ride. Other top contenders include local favorites Rizzi Girl, who upset the odds-on Snowdrops to capture the Grade 3 Hillsborough Stakes earlier in the meet, and Joyful Ballad.

Like Sweet Catomine in the Santa Anita Derby, Rich in Spirit will try to beat the boys in the 1 1/16-mile Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophomore Turf. Trained by Tom Proctor, Rich in Spirit won each of her first three starts on grass, including Calder's Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf, but has not run since finishing fourth in Calder's Tropical Park Oaks on New Year's Day.

Rich in Spirit was established the morning-line favorite despite facing males, although the actual post time favorite and horse to catch is likely to be Lord Robyn, winner of Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby and more recently a tiring fifth in Gulfstream's Dave Feldman Stakes.

The loss of Toscani in the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, might make the stretch-running Nightmare Affair the one to beat in the six-furlong dash.

Nightmare Affair has a pair of second-place finishes against strong optional claiming and allowance competition this winter at Gulfstream but remains winless since July 2004.

Hostile Witness is the tepid morning-line favorite in the Ocala Breeders' Sale Sophomore Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint that might be the most wide-open race on the card. Other key contenders include Roman Candles, Lite Brigade, and Captain Lindsay.

Former Sunshine Millions winner Proud Man might be the slight choice in a field of 14 entered for the Cherokee River Stables Turf Classic. He's in a field that includes Wirebound, Final Prophecy, and Gunning For.

Wirebound captured the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup earlier in the meet. Gunning For, upset winner of Belmont's Grade 3 Lawrence Realization Stakes last year, should improve off a fourth-place allowance finish here this winter.

Proctor should have the upper hand with Forever Brilliant, who tops a field of 14 3-year-old fillies entered in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies Stakes. Forever Brilliant was an impressive 8 1/2-length maiden winner at Gulfstream and has continued to train brilliantly at Tampa. Dependability, an allowance winner last fall at Churchill Downs, will make her 3-year-old debut for trainer Bill Mott in the Sophomore Fillies.

The Florida Cup is the result of a combined effort among Tampa Bay Downs, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, and the local division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.