Florida Panthers owner part of Florida Derby win

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Vincent Viola will not be hoisting the Stanley Cup this spring.

A Kentucky Derby might be his consolation prize.

Viola is part of the ownership group for Always Dreaming, the winner of Saturday’s Florida Derby and a horse that – barring an unforeseen problem – will next race in the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

He also is owner of the Florida Panthers, a team that entered the season with big aspirations and will miss the playoffs in a stumble that will likely lead to significant changes to the organization this summer.

And Viola also was briefly President Donald Trump’s nominee for Army secretary, before withdrawing his name from consideration in early February.

By any measure, it’s been an unusual year.

”To me, it’s been one blessing after the other and I try to convert every situation and learn something from it and take a positive from it,” Viola said. ”So I’m heartbroken about not being able to arrange my business as such that I could be Secretary of the Army, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to serve again formally in government.

”It’s just a matter of getting my businesses to where they’re ready to do that. So it’s been a year, quite frankly, of blessings.”

Viola is the founder of several businesses, including the electronic trading firm Virtu Financial. He’s a past chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange, a 1977 West Point graduate, trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division.

In 2003, he founded and helped fund the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Horse racing is one of his many, varied, interests. And right now, Always Dreaming might be his best trophy chance.

”Absolutely,” Viola said. ”I think the horse has a good chance to be looked at favorably.”

Florida fired coach Gerard Gallant early in the season, dealt with injuries all season and will see its season end on April 9. The Panthers are missing the playoffs for the 16th time in 19 seasons, and haven’t won a playoff series since 1996.

”No. No. One has nothing to do with the other,” Viola said when asked Saturday if winning the Florida Derby and going to the Triple Crown trail makes up for the Panthers’ struggles this season.

”Anything less than a Stanley Cup is simple failure, but we’re going to work even harder next year. But thanks for bringing it up. Thanks for balancing my Zen at this moment of glee.”