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At various times over the past few years, trainer Gerald Bennett has fielded suggestions from his wife Mary to slow down the pace that has resulted in 3,399 victories since acquiring his license in 1976.
But the prospect of breeding, owning and/or training the next stakes winner – or even the next Beau Genius – keeps proving impossible to resist.
Like most horsemen, the 69-year-old Bennett’s ultimate goal is to train a Kentucky Derby winner. And while he has been around long enough to know the odds, his newly-turned 2-year-old colt One More Step, which he bred with Mary from their 19-year-old broodmare One Buck Coyote, has stoked the embers of possibility.
“He looks the part, in his physique, his build and makeup,” Bennett said of the Two Step Salsa offspring, currently being raised in Ocala. “He’s got good lungs and everything, and we just paid to register him for the Florida Stallion Stakes series.”
Another Bennett 2-year-old – an unnamed filly out of the Bennetts’ stakes-winning broodmare Bucky’s Prayer, by 2010 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama – is also showing considerable promise in Ocala.
As long as talented young horses keep circulating through the pipeline, Bennett sees no reason to cut back.
“These horses deserve the chance, and it keeps my mind sharp,” said Bennett, the Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month. “What else would I do with myself?”
Three years after tying for the top spot in the trainer standings with 61 victories, the Springhill, Nova Scotia native may be primed for another run at the top. He has nine victories at the current meeting, behind only Jamie Ness and Jason DaCosta (11 each). Dale Bennett, Gerald’s son, is tied for fourth place with Dennis Ward with eight each.
Two of the elder Bennett’s horses – 6-year-old gelding Crimson Knight and 8-year-old gelding See I A – have two wins at the current meeting. His 3-year-old filly Ice for the Lady, second on Jan. 4 in the Gasparilla Stakes, is being pointed toward the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes on Feb. 1; 4-year-old gelding One Buck Roma, a homebred from the mare, One Buck Coyote, which he and Mary own, may return in the $60,000 Pelican Stakes on Jan. 25.
Having spent more than a half-century working with horses, Bennett is a stickler for providing each of the 40 Thoroughbreds in his care a pleasant, stress-free environment.
“If you can keep the atmosphere in the barn happy, it rubs off on them,” Bennett said. “Some horses like a guy who is always rubbing and patting them, and others just want you to get the work done and leave them alone.
“I tell my exercise riders to talk to the horses so they’re glad to see them in the morning. Give them a chance to stop, look around and be happy. Horses sense that kind of stuff, and it pays off in the afternoon,” he added.
Bennett’s approach has kept him at or near the top of the standings everywhere he has competed. His career victory total ranks 20th all-time and 12th among all active trainers in North America. From 2003-2011, he sent out at least 100 winners every year, and his horses have amassed lifetime earnings of more than $31-million.
Bennett gained a measure of national recognition three years ago, when Crimson Knight finished second in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 86-1, a mere 16 days after Bennett claimed him for $16,000.
But his best-known reclamation project came with Beau Genius, picked up by Bennett after his 3-year-old season in 1988. After convincing his owner the horse needed a long rehabilitation, “We put his legs in ice tubs, worked on his knees and whirlpooled him. We got him eating good and feeling good,” Bennett recalled last season.
Beau Genius’ career took off the following year, with a pair of stakes victories. He began his 5-year-old campaign with a victory in the Hallandale Handicap at Gulfstream Park – which proved to be jockey Bill Shoemaker’s final victory – and followed that up with eight more stakes triumphs, including the Grade I Iselin Handicap at Monmouth and the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth at Detroit.
Another Bennett trainee, Jr’s Exchange, holds the Tampa Bay Downs track records for five furlongs on both the main dirt (56.57 seconds) and turf (54.92) surfaces. Bennett said the 8-year-old gelding may return to training shortly after undergoing surgery to remove a splint bone.
Leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode three winners today, giving him 30 for the meeting, while Ricardo Feliciano rode two winners. Allen was aboard 4-year-old gelding Eclipticalswildcat in the second race for owners Victor Scodius, Kenneth Hall and John Fitzpatrick and trainer Robert Jeffries.
Allen returned to the winner’s circle after the eighth race on 4-year-old filly Gigglin’ Gal for owners Randall Bloch and Phil Milner and trainer Ian Wilkes, then the veteran reinsman won the 10th on the turf on 4-year-old filly Cherokee Beads for owner Jim Tafel, LLC and trainer Carl Nafzger.
Feliciano won the fourth race on 6-year-old mare Juliebrowneyes for breeder-owner Gail Wright and trainer Edward Williams. He added the sixth on 5-year-old gelding Magnificent Wreck for owner MCR Stable, Inc., and his father, trainer Benny Feliciano.
Andre Robinson, the proprietor of the Westchase BBQ stand open each weekend in the Backyard Picnic Area, has opened a secondary location in a food trailer at 12615 Tarpon Springs Rd. in Odessa, next to the large fruit and vegetable stand. The primary location of Westchase BBQ is at 11266 Hillsborough Ave. in the Silvermill Plaza in Tampa.
Thoroughbred racing resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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