by Mike Henry

Gerald Bennett has been training horses long enough to expect more days like Wednesday, when he went 0-for-6, than today, when he won his 3,500th career race.

He has also been part of Thoroughbred racing long enough to know he has joined elite company.

“No one is going to beat (all-time leader, the late) Dale Baird (9,445 victories) and those kind of numbers,” Bennett said Saturday after his 3-year-old filly Once More for Love won the fifth race to help him reach his latest milestone. “But there are a lot of top trainers somewhere around that range (3,500 victories), so it is a great lifetime achievement and a great honor.”

Friends and family members – including his wife, Mary, and his son, fellow trainer Dale Bennett – joined the winner’s-circle ceremony after Once More for Love rolled to a five-and-a-half length victory from Moonlight Salsa under jockey Orlando Mojica in the six-and-a-half furlong, $16,000 distaff claiming contest.

The Virginia-bred winner is owned by W. Kenan Rand, Jr.

“We’ve been waiting for this one,” an ebullient Mary Bennett said. “It’s funny, because the others (leading up to and including No. 3,499) came so easy and this one seemed like it was forever.”

The extended wait included a pair of seconds and three third-place finishes Wednesday; another horse that was scratched after flipping in the gate; and a runner-up effort Friday by This Boy’s Sharp despite dropping almost to his knees at the start, causing jockey Daniel Centeno to lose his irons.

“When you’re going for a milestone, it seems like it’s always harder to get the last one,” Bennett said.

There were few worries for Once More for Love, ridden perfectly by Mojica. “Mr. Bennett told me she would break on the lead, and to just lay close and let her go,” Mojica said. “It means a lot to me to help him get to 3,500. I rode a few horses for him in Indiana and this is only the second one here, but he has nice horses and always keeps them fit.”

Bennett made it 3,501 victories in the 10th race with 6-year-old gelding Moving Style, a 9-1 shot owned by his Winning Stables, Inc., operation and ridden by Erick Rodriguez.

Bennett is 19th all-time among North American trainers in victories and 12th among active trainers. He leads the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting standings with 36 victories.

T-shirts proclaiming Bennett’s feat were brought out for the ceremony, while the subject of their admiration was already looking ahead to the next victory and the next benchmark. Although he turned 71 earlier this month, Bennett shows no signs of slowing.

“I want to slow down, but he wants to keep going, so I guess I have to follow,” Mary said. “He goes up and down the road with horses – I don’t know how he does it. He doesn’t drink coffee and he doesn’t smoke. It’s all about living life the right way.”

“I’m on the highway early just to win a race, even if it’s a $2,000 race,” Bennett said. “I want to win, and I’ll take them wherever I have to take them to win a race.

“When See I A was claimed (Wednesday, by Joe Woodard), he (See I A) kind of looked at me with his eye like he was thinking ‘Aren’t you leading me away?’ ” said Bennett, who had trained that 9-year-old gelding to seven victories in his 12 previous starts. “You get that feeling, that sixth sense that the horses are communicating with you.”

It’s a sense the Springhill, Nova Scotia native keeps refining after four decades of winning races.

Lambholm South Tampa Turf Test. Brother Pat made quick work of five overmatched rivals to win the ninth race and complete his four-race sweep of the Male Division of the Lambholm South Tampa Turf Test. The 6-year-old gelding defeated Striking Hight by seven-and-a-half lengths in 2:06.75 for the mile-and-a-quarter.

The race was moved from the turf course to the main track after the seventh race, the Filly and Mare Division, further softened a turf oval that had been soaked by rain Friday.

Brother Pat won two races in the series on turf and two on dirt while never trailing in any of the four races at any point of call. In becoming the first horse to sweep the starter handicap series in its 13-year history, he was probably more dominant than the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.

“It’s nice to have a horse that versatile,” said trainer Jamie Ness, who owns the son of Any Given Saturday with wife Mandy under their Jagger, Inc., banner. “On the turf, off the turf, soft turf, hard turf, muddy, it didn’t really matter. He’s a good horse, he has a high cruising speed and he can carry it a long distance, and that makes him hard to beat.”

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo rode Brother Pat in all four legs of the series. “He didn’t surprise me. He made the lead easy, and once he got going he was very calm and relaxed. He can win a lot more races.”

Expect Brother Pat, now 10-for-33 lifetime, to get that opportunity.

“When you’ve got a hot horse, you’ve got to keep him running,” Ness said. “I don’t know where we’ll run him again – we’ll take it race to race.”

The 8-year-old mare Kings Tuesday won the Filly and Mare Division at a mile-and-three-eighths on the turf. Jockey Ricardo Feliciano did an outstanding job of nursing her speed on the front end, and she had enough in reserve to stave off Rmilliondollarbaby by three-quarters of a length in a winning time of 2:20.59.

Kings Tuesday, a Florida-bred, is owned and trained by Kathleen A. Guciardo. She is now 10-for-57 lifetime, including four victories in her last six races.

“She got knocked down in a race (at Presque Isle Downs) in July and burned her shoulder, and I dropper her in for a nickel (a $5,000 claiming tag) in her next race and she went to running,” said John Guciardo, who transferred training duties to his wife when they arrived at Tampa Bay Downs. “She is a real nice mare.” 

Also today, Ness and Gallardo teamed to win the second race with 5-year-old gelding Nuestra Senor for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.

Jockey Mike Allen made long-shot players happy with a pair of victories. In the sixth race, he rode 4-year-old filly Canna Red for owner-trainer Francine A. Villeneuve. Canna Red paid $20.20 to win. Allen returned to the winner’s circle after the eighth race on 3-year-old colt Double Parqued, who paid $71.80 to win for owners Kenneth Meyer and Spiess Stables and trainer Randy L. Klopp.

Florida Cup Day XIII. Tampa Bay Downs will play host to the 13th annual Florida Cup on Saturday, April 4. Six $75,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds will be on tap on the 12-race card, as the Oldsmar oval celebrates the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding and raising champion Thoroughbreds.

The stakes lineup consists of The Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old fillies at a distance of seven furlongs; The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs; The Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward going six furlongs; The Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; The Tampa Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf; and The Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.

The stakes will also be high for handicappers, who will have the opportunity to compete for cash prizes via the inaugural “Florida Cup Day Challenge” free online contest.

Here is how it works: Players can register to participate at the track’s website,

Each player is required to place a mythical, $2 across-the-board (win, place and show) wager on a single horse in each of the day’s 12 races.

At the end of the day, the player with the most accumulated earnings wins a first-place prize of $1,500; second place is $500, and third place is $250. Aye, but here’s the rub – if any of your selections finishes out of the money, you are eliminated from the contest.

Thankfully, that Regis Philbin fellow, years ago, invented the concept of lifelines, and each contest entrant will have the option before the first race of purchasing as many as three lifelines for $10 a toss. So if you go in for three lifelines at a total outlay of $30, you’ll be cushioned against three out-of-the-money finishes.

Further contest details will be available on the track website.

The Florida Cup celebrates the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding and raising champion Thoroughbreds, including the likes of Needles, Carry Back, Dr. Fager, Susan’s Girl, Foolish Pleasure, Affirmed, Conquistador Cielo, Gate Dancer, Holy Bull, Silver Charm, Skip Away and Mucho Macho Man.

In the last three years, six horses that were graded-stakes winners, or went on to win graded stakes, have triumphed in a Florida Cup Day stakes.

Thoroughbred racing resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. Sunday is also the final Kids & Family Day of the meeting, with games, pony rides, inflatable slides, bounce houses and good food in the Picnic Pavilion Area.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 5, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

The Downs Golf Practice Facility will be open Easter Sunday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with buckets of balls being sold through 3:30 p.m.