OLDSMAR — For trainer Kathleen O'Connell, it would take a major achievement to match her Kentucky Derby experience.
That will happen soon for the hexagenarian who once aspired to be a veterinarian.
O'Connell, who saddles horses in three of the six $75,000 Florida Cup stakes races this afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs, will be recognized as the first female conditioner to gain induction into the Calder Hall of Fame on April 13 at Miami Gardens — capping off two weeks of milestones.
On March 29, O'Connell reached 1,500 career wins with This One's for Mel for owner-breeder Gilbert Campbell, her major client.
"I look at everything as a template for a huge blessing with all the odds that were stacked against me from the very beginning," said O'Connell, who received her first racing license in 1970 as a hot-walker. "I always laugh and say it's been a blue-collar operation. I really haven't got the claiming, shaking, moving type stable. I run ordinary horses where they belong."
O'Connell, who took Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go to the 2011 Kentucky Derby (he finished 18th), made Calder history in 2009-10 by becoming the first female to win a training title. Overall, the Downs' two-time leading conditioner has started 11,776 horses with purse earnings approaching $25 million.
"(The Calder Hall of Fame) is definitely up there (with the Kentucky Derby)," O'Connell said. "It's an accumulation of a lot of years, a lot of work and a lot of effort. It always takes a team. I've been blessed with a lot of quality people that have worked for me."
O'Connell is looking for her first Florida Cup Day stakes victory, an event in its 11th season. Her stakes starters are: Kanturk Kid in the Sophomore Turf (Race 5, 2:47 p.m.), Alluring Lady and Carolinaonmymind in the Sophomore Fillies (6, 3:17) and Too Fast to Pass in the Sophomore (8, 4:15). Other stakes on the 12-race card are the Turf Classic (7, 3:47), the Distaff Turf (9, 4:50) and the Sprint (10, 5:21).
The Detroit native also can make a splash today on Calder's season-opening program with Reporting Star in the $250,000 Calder Derby (11, 5:25).
"We need a good cheering section," she said.
More horses: The Downs has added another live racing day this summer. It will run June 30 and July 1. … Tampa Bay Derby winner Verrazano is entered today in the Grade I $1 million Wood Memorial (11, 6:28) at Aqueduct at Jamaica, N.Y. The Wood shares the Kentucky Derby-prep spotlight with the Grade I $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (9, 7:01) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
Dogs: Derby Lane will host its richest stakes race tonight with the $80,000 Distance Classic (10, 10:11). The field from the rail: Hi Noon Assassin, Flying Oviedo, Kiowa Jordan Doc, Se's Home Owner, Lk's Sniper, Budz Crosby, Art Almost and Flyin Pink Floyd.