As Americans all over the country celebrated our 241st Independence Day, the horse racing at Gulfstream Park was filled with sizzling hot action.
Included were two races in the Florida HBPA Stakes Series, the Martha Washington and the Not Surprising, the latter named after the 1995 Eclipse Champion Sprinter owned by Robert E. Van Worp, and trained by his son Jud Van Worp.
Jud and his wife Debbie were on hand along with their children and grandchildren to present the trophy for the Not Surprising.
The Van Worp family are pioneers in Florida racing at Tampa Bay Downs. It all started with the family’s late patriarch, Robert Van Worp Sr. From humble beginnings in 1940 in a paint-can cluttered, two-car garage in Matawan, N. J. Van Worp Sr. worked as a paint salesman. He moved to Tampa in 1951 and started Mary Carter Paint Factories, and his business boomed.
Van Worp Sr. was not yet finished creating his legacy. He would next leave his mark on horse racing starting in the 1960’s, training horses at at Miles Park in Kentucky. At that time he leased his horses, and soon went on to ownership, calling his 910-acre Rovan Farms near Tampa home for his stable. His son Robert E Van Worp and his grandsons Jud and his brother, R.E. “Bob” Van Worp would follow in his footsteps.
Jud wrapped up his training career in 2007 with 1,226 starts, 187 wins and over $2.4 million in earnings.
We caught up with Jud and his wife Debbie at Ten Palms restaurant in Gulfstream Park to share his memories about Not Surprising and what this day means to Jud and his family.
“We bought the horse [Not Surprising] as a yearling at the August Ocala sale for about $7,000. We bought a few Medieval Man horses before. They were hard-knocking honest horses. Plus, he was a big strong horse, and that was our M.O. We looked for athletes, we didn’t really do the breeding thing.
He was a big gangly 2-year-old, he won his first race down here at Calder for Bill [White] who trained him at that time. He even won a couple of stakes races for Bill, but it took quite a while for the horse to mature.
He was a big mean horse and we had to geld him at three. I didn’t think him being mean was the problem, but he became and ‘in and outer.’ He’d beat a horse, then, that same horse would come back to beat him three weeks later. Also, he was a backyard bred, so it was not that hard of a decision to make. We needed a race horse.
It took quite a few years to get him going right. He didn’t hit his best stride until he was 5, the year he won the Eclipse. In fact, he took so long to mature, I remember when Bill came to see him as a 4-year-old he said, ‘Wow! He looks like a different horse.’ And he really did.
I remember going into the 1995 Breeders Cup and he was undefeated at three quarters. We were so excited, and confident he could win, but it rained that day and the horse hated the mud. So, he ended up running fourth. That’s horse racing, right?
We gave him some rest after his 6-year-old season, we raced him until he was 9 just for fun, and he did well. He was not the same but he did win the Hialeah Sprint Championship and the True North at Belmont. He had obviously lost a few steps, so we put him out to the farm where he lived until this year when he died.”
Not Surprising ran in 61 career races with 23 wins including 10 stakes victories and 5 Graded Stakes wins.
We are honored to be here and have this opportunity to present the Not Surprising trophy. We want to thank the FHBPA for inviting us, it was great of them. We just love it here down at Gulfstream and Hallandale Beach. And we’re sure everyone will enjoy the big race and the fireworks later tonight,” he said.
Jud has a YouTube channel where you can see some of Not Surprising’s best races.