With the conclusion of its Friday, Nov. 30, racing program, Calder Casino & Race Course has let the curtain fall on the 65-day Tropical Meet, thus ending the south Florida track’s 150-day live racing season that commenced with opening day of the 85-day Calder Meet on April 9.
The centerpiece event of the Tropical Meet was once again the prestigious Festival of the Sun program on Oct. 13 that featured the final legs of the lucrative Florida Stallion Stakes Series. Jockey Angel Serpa used the day to show off his riding prowess, taking top prize in the $300,000-estimated My Dear Girl Division with Frank C. Calabrese’s Verso a Verso before returning two races later to claim glory in the $300,000-estimated In Reality with Ralph Nabavi’s promising colt Speak Logistics.
Other stars on the Festival of the Sun program included Larry Fugate’s Cash Rules, who won the Grade 3 Spend A Buck Handicap, which was the gelding’s second of three stakes wins at the meet; Jacks or Better Farm, Inc.’s Awesome Belle, the 2011 Stallion Stakes heroine that extended her 2012 stakes-winning streak to four when taking the Frances A. Genter Stakes; and Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff’s Csaba, the 14-length winner of the Tropical Park Derby.
While the annual Festival of the Sun, now in its 21st year, was the Tropical Meet’s signature event, the annual Florida Million program, held for the 11th time in 2012, was the most stakes-laden day of the meet, offering eight stakes and a total of $1 million in purse money for registered Florida-bred horses.
There was no shortage of storylines to follow on Florida Million day as jockey Paco Lopez won the first two stakes of the day before passing the baton to Jose Lezcano, a winner of three stakes on the afternoon, who in turn tossed glory to My Pal Chrisy and Bad Debt, as both successfully defended their 2011 titles in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap and Bonnie Heath Turf Cup Handicap.
The latter stages of the Tropical Meet saw its usual influx of northern-based horses swooping down to claim graded stakes gold as West Point Thoroughbreds’ Twilight Eclipse won the Grade 2 W. L. McKnight Handicap, Mackie Racing’s Kya One took the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap, St. George Farm, LLC’s Closing Range captured the Grade 3 La Prevoyante, and Brushwood Stable’s Philly Ace prevailed in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap.
Unveiled in the spring as a four-race series featuring rich rewards for starter allowance horses, the Calder Starter Series returned in an expanded six-race format for the Tropical Meet. Dubbed the Tropical Starter Series, three races were offered as part of the Open division while an additional three races were set aside as the Filly and Mare division, with each division offering a $5,000 bonus to the trainer of the series winner.
With one victory and two second-place finishes, Doble Jak Investment, LLC’s Flying Trip rewarded trainer Gilberto Zerpa with a $5,000 bonus when winning the Filly and Mare division, while Steve Dwoskin’s Brother Pat notched the owner/trainer the $5,000 prize thanks to a second-place and a third-place finish while competing in the Open division.
Top prize in the Tropical Starter Series would not be the only hardware taken home by Dwoskin at the Tropical Meet as the longtime local conditioner finished at the head of the training table upon conclusion of the meet, besting his nearest rival 31 to 24. The title was the second for Dwoskin, who was also leading trainer at the 2010 Calder Meet.
Jockey Luis Saez once again exerted his dominance over the local riding colony, running away with the Tropical Meet crown while simultaneously setting the meet record for wins with 118. The Tropical riding title was the second for Saez, who also prevailed in the 2011 Tropical standings. Saez also added the 2012 Calder Meet riding title to his growing treasure chest, and his combined-meet win total of 242 at Calder this year was the most since Manoel Cruz prevailed in 286 races in 2006.
Much like the race for leading rider, which didn’t prove to be much of a race at all, there was little drama in the leading owner chase as Frank C. Calabrese built upon his 2011 Tropical and 2012 Calder Meet successes when easily taking the 2012 Tropical Meet title by a final count of 34 to 19. The title was the fourth at the track for Calabrese, who also finished atop the 2010-11 Tropical standings.
Calder Casino & Race Course will remain open for full-card simulcasting during the offseason with live racing scheduled to return to Miami Gardens on Saturday, April 6, 2013.