When Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association president Dr. Phil Matthews welcomed the guests to the FTBOA Awards Dinner and Gala at the Circle Square Cultural Center in Ocala on Monday night, March 11, it was no surprise that he began by telling the 350 estimated attendees of the record-setting year Florida-breds and their breeders had experienced in 2012.
“Tweleve Florida-breds won a record 15 Grade 1 races throughout North America last year,” Matthews said. “And among the ten leading states and provinces in North America, only Florida stallions produced more foals in 2012 than in the previous year.” As one who heads an association whose mission is promote the Florida thoroughbred industry, one would expect him to give those comments or other words of similar enthusiasm.
But what one may not expect is for three of the leading trainers in the game to do the same later that same night. But that is exactly what happened when Eclipse Award-winning trainers Bob Baffert and Dale Romans, and prominent Florida conditioner Bill Kaplan did when they addressed the audience in separate speeches.
Baffert was the first to applaud the Florida breeders when he accepted the Florida-bred award as the trainer of Florida-bred Champion Male Sprinter Coil and later Florida-bred Champion Three-Year-OId Filly Eden’s Moon.
“I just want to say how much Florida-breds have meant to me,” Baffert, a trainer of three Kentucky Derby winners (Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002), said. “They have helped make my career from horses like Silver Charm right up to Coil and Eden’s Moon last year. I don’t know what you [Florida breeders] are doing down here, but keep it up.”
A few awards presentations later, it came time to present several awards to the connections of Little Mike as the Florida-bred Champion Turf Horse, Florida-bred Champion Older Horse and Florida-bred Horse of the Year.
After Nick Vaccarezza, the son of breeder Carlo Vaccarezza and owner Priscilla Vaccareeza gave a heart-felt speech about the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner named for his brother Mike, Romans made it a point to grab the microphone before stepping off the stage.
“I just want to echo what Bob Baffert mentioned,” Romans said. “As most of you know, I’m a Kentucky boy through and through but I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for what you have meant to me and my career. It was actually you who helped me off to a fast start. When I first got my license as a 28-year-old kid, it was Michael O’Farrell and Marion Lewis who walked around the Calder sale all those years ago and helped me pick out a bunch of Florida-breds – and most of them turned out to be winners. Now I’ve had the chance to train some great Florida-bred stakes winners like Joint Effort and now Little Mike and I have to say, the Eclipse Awards got it wrong and you got it right!”
Just a month earlier, Little Mike missed being named the North American Champion Turf Horse after winning the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, the Arlington Million at Arlington Park and the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Santa Anita, all Grade 1 races and all further than the three Grade 1 turf races won by eventual champion Wise Dan.
Not to be outdone in his appreciation for Florida-breds of course, was Bill Kaplan. Accepting the award for the second consecutive year as the trainer of 2012 of Champion Older Female and Female Sprinter Musical Romance, herself an Eclipse Award winner and Florida-bred Horse of the Year in 2011, Kaplan went right to the point with his comments.
“Musical Romance has meant a great deal to me but so have a lot of other Florida-breds. I’ve trained mainly Florida-breds because – quite simply – I buy only Florida-breds.”
Kaplan’s testimonial may have been the shortest of the three decorated conditioners, but his long history of backing his words by signing auction tickets on horses from the Sunshine State have just an impact if not more.
So the next time you find yourself in the market for a thoroughbred whether at an auction, private sale or through the claiming box, consider the words of three of the most successful trainers in the game and the final comments by Dr. Matthews.
“When it comes to Florida-breds – you can race ‘em or chase ‘em.”