by Mike Henry

OLDSMAR, FL. – After finishing second in the Oldsmar trainer standings during the 2013-14 meeting, Gerald Bennett and his team are chomping at the bit for the Nov. 29 resumption of Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs.

A five-horse contingent from the Bennett operation arrived at the stable gate a few minutes after 8 a.m. today – the first arrivals for the upcoming 89th anniversary season. They showed up in a Cimarron Trailer driven by Tommy Taylor, who was accompanied up front in a Ford 4X4 by Tim Strong and one of Bennett’s grooms, Angel Cacho.

“We had a good trip,” Taylor said of the overnight haul from Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, Ind. “Generally it takes about 17 hours, but we had to stop in Ocala to drop one horse off and pick one up, so it took 20 hours this time. But it went very smooth.”

Taylor and the other handlers checked on the horses at every fuel stop, giving them fresh water and hay. Each of the five equines walked down the ramp none the worse for wear, eager to begin the acclimation to their new home in Bennett’s Barn 12A in the Florida sunshine (and, for at least this morning, very brisk winds).

For the record, 3-year-old filly Our Burning Faith was the first Bennett runner to unload and inhabit her new stall. She was followed by a 5-year-old gray stakes-winning gelding, Unstoppable U (claimed by Bennett earlier this week for his wife, Mary Bennett); 3-year-old filly Ice for the Lady, runner-up in last season’s Gasparilla Stakes and a stakes winner in June at Canterbury Park; Hero Wisdom, another 3-year-old filly; and 2-year-old filly Cheers for Sidney.

Bennett has eight horses competing at ThistleDown Racino in Cleveland over the next several days and will be joining the Tampa Bay Downs operation soon after. The Tampa Bay Downs main dirt surface opens for training Tuesday.

“It feels great to be back with the horses,” said Bennett’s assistant trainer, Carlos Cacho, who is Angel’s son. “I just got back from two weeks of vacation and my wife Josi is expecting out third child Nov. 17, so this is going to be a busy month. It’s good for the horses to get here early, settle in and relax. I’ve been working for Gerald and Mary Bennett for 14 years and they have always treated me well, so I try to do the best I can for them.”

Bennett, who tied Jamie Ness for the 2010-11 Tampa Bay Downs training title with 61 victories, has saddled 3,462 winners since he began training in 1976, 20th on the all-time North American list.

For more coverage of today’s first barn area arrivals, please visit Tampa Bay Downs’ Facebook page.