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Festival of the Sun brightens mood around Florida horse track

For Florida horsemen, the picture has been cloudy. They have dealt with declining handle and purse reductions. And this month, powerhouse Adena Springs announced it was ending its Florida breeding program in Williston, moving stallions to Kentucky and Canada, which provide better purse structures.

"Horsemen have had it tough this year," Calder Race Course spokeswoman Michele Blanco said.

But today, a ray of sunshine exists at the Miami Gardens track with the 18th renewal of Festival of the Sun. The 13-race card features seven stakes totaling $1.25 million, including finales in the Florida Stallion Stakes and the last of 61 Breeders' Cup qualifying races. First post is 12:40 p.m. The stakes are Races 6-12.

Jackson Bend, a homebred colt trained by Stanley Gold for owner Jacks or Better Farm, will attempt to become the seventh horse to sweep all three Florida Stallion Stakes open division races in the In Reality, one of two $400,000 stakes in the series for 2-year-olds at 11/16 miles. Jackson Bend won the 6-furlong Dr. Fager on Aug. 8 and 7-furlong Affirmed on Aug. 29.

He also handed Grade II Belmont Futurity and Saratoga Springs Special winner D' Funnybone his only loss in the Frank Gomez Memorial on July 11 at Calder. Jackson Bend has won four consecutive races after running second in his debut. Last year, Big Drama swept the stallion stakes for Clearwater owner Harold Queen.

"Talk to anyone who trains a good 2-year-old (and) there's hope for the future," Blanco said. "That's what the stallion stakes is all about."

The other Florida Stallion Stakes race is the My Dear Girl, limited to fillies. Two-year-olds also will compete in the Birdonthewire and Cassidy, each $75,000 races along with the Calder Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. There are two Grade III $100,000 events: Calder Derby and Spend a Buck Handicap, a qualifier for the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6-7 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.

A stagnant economy and rain that curtailed turf racing forced Calder to slash overnight purses 15 percent on Oct. 8, but relief may be on the way. On Friday, Calder opens a 29-table poker room on the grandstand's first floor. A new 104,000-square foot facility for slot machines is expected to be completed before Super Bowl XLIV is held Feb. 7 at nearby Land Shark Stadium.

"Absolutely, we're hoping that we'll be able to restore the purses," Blanco said. "We hope to see a turnaround in the trend."

Calder's 105-day meet ends Sunday. Tampa Bay Downs 2000-01 leading jockey Manoel Cruz will win his third Calder championship. William White has wrapped up his 11th trainer title and Oldsmar conditioner Kathleen O'Connell is third. The Tropical meet at Calder starts Thursday and runs through Jan. 2.

Festival of the Sun brightens mood around Florida horse track 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 10:01pm]
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