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Florentino holds off all comers to take the Jefferson Cup.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

No Catching Florentino in Jefferson Cup

Speedy son of Swept Overboard turns back favored El Crespo on the Churchill turf.

The Japanese-bred Florentino led all the way to hold off favored El Crespo for his first graded stakes victory in the $163,500 Jefferson Cup (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) on the Churchill Downs turf course June 13.

Pressed down the lane by El Crespo and No Inflation, Darley Stable's Florentino responded willingly to urging from jockey Alan Garcia to post a three-quarters of a length win in the 1 1/8-mile event. El Crespo, the 9-5 favorite in the field of seven 3-year-olds, edged No Inflation for the runner-up spot by a neck.

Florentino, a speedy son of Swept Overboard trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, outfought No Inflation, who was squeezed a bit at the start, and El Crespo for the early lead. Left alone on the front end, Florentino was able to carve out soft fractions -- :25.00, :50.26 and 1:15.31. El Crespo, immediately to Florentino's outside, appeared poised to grab the lead for jockey Julien Leparoux as they squared away for the stretch run, but the front-runner wasn't finished. Florentino inched away gamely from El Crespo and No Inflation, in tight briefly mid-stretch, had no where to go for Robby Albarado.

Under some encouragement, Florentino finished up stylishly after a prolonged drive in a final time of 1:51.59 over firm going.

"We went into the first turn and no other horse wanted to come so we were just all alone," Garcia said. "We made the turn for home two furlongs out and I just had more horse than any other rider.”

Bred by Northern Farm in Japan, Florentino is out of the Sunday Silence mare Must Be Loved. The bay colt was coming off a third-place in Keenland's 1 1/16-mile Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT), in which he weakened after leading into deep stretch.

Since being shifted to the turf for a two-length maiden win at Gulfstream Park Jan. 10, Florentino has won three of five starts. The winning purse in the Jefferson Cup of $99,344 increased Florentino's earnings to $167,312. The winner was shipped to Churchill Downs after scratching out of the June 5 Hill Prince (gr. III) when it was rained off the turf at Belmont Park.

"We had to look for another spot," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to his brother. "Here was this race. The mile-and-an-eighth we were worried about and maybe soft turf we were worried about but he goes and throws in a race like that. That was super. What a ride. It was beautiful.”

Sent off as the third choice, Florentino carried 117 pounds and paid $9.20, $4.60 and $3.20 while topping a $2 exacta worth $27.80.

The grade III winner El Crespo, who rallied impressively to get third in the Arlington Classic last time out for trainer Rusty Arnold, returned $3.20 and $2.40.

“I was pretty happy with where I was," Arnold said of the runner-up, who carried top weight of 121. "I know it was a little slower than I was looking for, but we had a clean run at him and I thought we were going to get to him, but he didn’t.”

A slightly unlucky No Inflation was $2.80 to show.

Advice finished fourth, followed by Jake Wil Gallop, Bruce N Autumn and Har D Boy.