Quest for a fifth consecutive Oldsmar title off to strong start; Well Defined, Jackson, Wildwood's Beauty entered in Saturday's FTBOA stakes.
In a sport in which luck can play a disproportionate role, trainer Gerald Bennett tries to leave as little to chance as possible.
On Mondays, when there is no racing and the Tampa Bay Downs backstretch is as quiet as a forest glen, Bennett will walk his entire shed row, checking the condition of each horse. He varies their feed and training regimens, depending on their needs and rate of progress.
Some Mondays he might go to Ocala, looking for another talented youngster or two to add to his 40-plus horse stable. It’s a rarity when his effort to stay atop the Oldsmar trainer standings slows – even after his head hits the pillow.
“If you have the horses on your mind, when you go to sleep your mind is still going,” said the 75-year-old Bennett, winner of four consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles and five overall. “You’re thinking about individual horses, and you wake up and change your mind about what you’re going to do with a certain horse (to help it improve). Your mind is rolling through the night.”
With five victories through today’s card, Bennett is off to a typically quick start in search of another crown. His performance during the first two weeks of the 2019-2020 meeting earned him the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award.
Bennett, a native of Springhill, Nova Scotia, is in 15th place all-time among North American trainers with 3,848 career victories, 11 behind the late Allen Jerkens. He also has his sights on the next conditioner in line, the late Frank Merrill, Jr., who is No. 1 among Canadian trainers with 3,974.
Cold statistics barely scratch the surface of Bennett’s legacy. He has always loved horses, and considers it his responsibility to find the keys to fulfilling their potential.
“I like to be competitive and win races, whether it’s a $2,000 claiming race or a stakes,” Bennett said of his unquenchable drive. “It’s not a game where you’re likely to get rich, but there is no thrill like it. And you’re going to get to meet more people in a year or two from all different kinds of businesses and life situations as a normal person might meet in their life.”
Bennett, whose wife Mary and son Dale are also trainers, has trained scores of good horses, most notably career millionaire Beau Genius. He campaigned the Ontario-bred to 11 stakes victories as a 4 and 5-year-old, including the 1990 Grade I Philip H. Iselin Handicap and the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap.
He has high hopes for 2-year-old No Getting Over Me, a Florida-bred he purchased for $17,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company June Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age Sale.
Owned by Gerald and Mary under their Winning Stables, Inc., banner, the gelding won his career debut going a mile-and-40-yards on Nov. 29, then finished second in the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes on Saturday. Bennett is targeting the $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes on Jan. 18 as his next start, with an eye toward the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 8 and the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
Bennett narrowly missed winning the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby, finishing second with 86-1 shot Crimson Knight, a horse he had claimed for $16,000 from his previous start 16 days earlier.
“It’s not easy,” Bennett said of his continuing success in Thoroughbred racing. “You have to keep working at it. But it’s a sport that when you get a good horse like (No Getting Over Me), it gives you the possibility of getting to where you want to be.”
Other top horses trained by Bennett include Secret Romeo, a multiple stakes winner who captured the 2002 Pelican and Super Stakes are earned $865,790; Bucky’s Prayer, a mare who won the 2007 Lightning City Stakes and almost $300,000; and R Angel Katelyn, a filly who won three stakes during the 2016-2017 Oldsmar meeting.
Also, Fast Flying Rumor, who set a Tampa Bay Downs Beyer Speed Figure record of 108 (since bettered) in capturing the 2016 Turf Dash; Down From Heaven, a filly who won nine consecutive races at Detroit in 1986; and Lombardi Time, an ex-claiming horse who went on to win five stakes – including the 1993 Beau Genius Handicap at Detroit.
Around the oval. Defending jockey champion Samy Camacho rode two winners today. He captured the sixth race on Naughty Shirley, a 3-year-old filly owned by Mercy Man Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett. Camacho added the ninth race on the turf with 18-1 shot Matty’s Express, a 2-year-old gelding owned by Sharon Pore and trained by Michael Dini.
A pair of $125,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds sired by registered Florida stallions highlight Saturday’s 10-race card, which kicks off with the Touch Vodka Breakfast at the Downs at 9 a.m. under the Picnic Pavilion Tent.
A field of six 3-year-old colts and geldings will contest the 7-furlong Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes, which is the fifth race on the card. Heading the group are last season’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner, Well Defined, and Jackson, who won two stakes here last season and set a track record of 1:38.86 for a mile-and-40-yards in the FTBOA Silver Charm Florida Sire Stakes.
There are six 3-year-old fillies entered in the 7-furlong FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes, which is the third race Saturday. Heading that field is multiple stakes winner Wildwood’s Beauty, winner here last season of the Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies and the FTBOA Ivanavinalot Florida Sire Stakes.
Fans can get an early start on the day’s racing excitement by enjoying breakfast outdoors while watching workouts and interacting with track officials and horsemen. Tickets, which are $10 and include a racing program and a Touch Vodka Bloody Mary (adults only), are available at www.tampabaydowns.com , in the General Office and at the tent the morning of the event.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with Sundays added to the mix Dec. 22 and a special Thursday card Dec. 26.
The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.