After a rash of second-place finishes, momentum starting to roll in veteran conditioner's barn; Antonio Gallardo rebounds from Sunday spill to ride two winners.
Cold, rainy weather rolled in about halfway into Gerald Bennett’s recent road trip to Kentucky with his wife Mary to look at a 2-year-old for sale. After discussion, the owner decided to give the filly (her only remaining horse) to Bennett, telling him “I was talking to the people at the sale at Keeneland, and I’m going to give you this horse because everybody told me you’ll do right by her and get her to the races.”
The weather stayed nasty on the drive home, and the 73-year-old Bennett suffered from a cold the next couple of days. But his enthusiasm about the new addition to his stable remains high.
Gerald Bennett (left)
“It’ll be another great story if it turns out well,” he said, laughing.
There is no rule that says you have to be an eternal optimist to participate in the racing game, but Gerald Bennett figures it can’t hurt. During a recent 12-day stretch in which his horses posted eight seconds, with only three victories, Bennett kept believing his fortunes were about to change.
The turnaround occurred Sunday, when the two-time defending Tampa Bay Downs training champion sent out three winners from three starters to wrest the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month award from several strong challengers.
Bennett has 15 winners at the meeting through today, trailing current leader (and past champion) Kathleen O’Connell by three victories. The competition to best his rivals has always been a major motivating force for Bennett, who is 15th on the all-time North American trainers’ list with 3,685 victories, but winning isn’t everything.
“You have to have that desire to win, to be on top. Then you add the fun that comes with it, the camaraderie at the barn with your crew, there’s your answer,” said Bennett, who began training Thoroughbreds in 1974. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years and I don’t think there is another game in the world where you meet as many good people and make so many lasting friendships.”
Beau Genius was Bennett’s top runner, capturing the Grade I Philip H. Iselin Handicap and the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap in 1990 and amassing more than $750,000 in earnings. Beau Genius also won the Hallandale Handicap at Gulfstream in 1990, a race notable as the final victory for Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker.
Other talented Bennett runners through the years include Secret Romeo, Black Belt, Fast Flying Rumor, Bucky’s Prayer and the multiple stakes-winning filly R Angel Katelyn, being pointed to the Minaret Stakes here on Feb. 17.
He has some good ones in training, such as R Angel Katelyn, a 4-year-old filly owned by Rich Averill’s Averill Racing and partners, who won three stakes races here last season; R True Talent, a multiple stakes-placed 3-year-old filly, currently on the shelf after minor surgery; and Royal Jewely, a stakes-winning 6-year-old mare who won an allowance/optional claiming sprint here Sunday.
Bennett monitors the pulse of his stable every day, determining which horses need what and how close they are to competing.
“The first thing I do when I get here (at 5 a.m.) is unlock my office, then I walk one side of the barn to see how they’re doing, if they’re into their feed tubs,” Bennett said. “With the weather the way it’s been, you have to follow how they’re eating and see how they’re feeling. You have to keep a close eye they don’t get a temperature, or they might go to the track and get really sick.”
And while he is not averse to moving a horse that is training well up in company, Bennett knows his long-term results rely on finding the right spot for each horse, based on its ability.
“The main thing to winning races is to enter in the right spots and have the races you enter go” (draw enough starters to stage the race), Bennett said. “That’s a big factor with your cheaper horses, because you can’t over-train them if a race is carried over or there’s a good chance they’ll leave their race in the morning.”
Around the oval. Three days after incurring a bruised leg and dizziness in a spill, leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners. Gallardo won the second race, a maiden claiming contest switched from the turf to the main track, on Florida Lady, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Trinity Farm and trained by Chad Stewart.
Gallardo added the third race on Special Event, a 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Emory A. Hamilton and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:44 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.