by Mike Henry


Gerald Bennett

Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett had a positive feeling about each of his four entrants on today’s card.

“I told (a friend) to bet Thunder Harbor win and place in the third race and let it play through,” Bennett said.

It’s an equally safe bet Bennett and his wife Mary will be enjoying an expensive meal on his pal in the near future.

Following a nose victory by Thunder Harbor, each of Bennett’s subsequent starters earned a trip to the winner’s circle to give the veteran conditioner a 4-for-4 day. Kathleen O’Connell is believed to be the only other trainer to achieve that feat in Tampa Bay Downs history.

Jamie Ness has sent out four winners on two separate occasions.

“Every accomplishment like that is great, and it pays for all the hard work you put in,” said the 71-year-old Bennett, who recalled saddling five winners on two occasions at the old Detroit Race Course. “You need days like that to keep you going. But I’m easy-going; I’ll take whatever I can get, as long as I can pay the bills.”

Bennett has now trained 41 winners for the meeting, increasing his margin to 10 from current runner-up Ness. Veteran jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two of the four and won four races himself on the card, with a second and a third, from six mounts.

Luck certainly played a role in Bennett’s big day, as the 7-year-old gelding Thunder Harbor, now 12-for-44 lifetime, held on by a diminishing nose from Son of Pearl to win the third race, a $25,000 claiming event for older horses going six furlongs. Allen was aboard. The time was an exceptional 1:10.06. Owned by Mary Bennett’s Winning Stables and La Marca Stable, he paid $4.60 as the wagering favorite.

The 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Antoine’s broke his maiden for Bennett in the fourth race in his 13th try, posting a length-and-a-quarter victory under jockey Antonio Gallardo. Antoine’s, who was claimed from the six-furlong spring for $8,000 by trainer Reid Nagle for his Big Lick Farm, paid $3 as a heavy favorite. His previous owner was James Georgeades.

Bennett made it three in a row in the fifth race at a mile on the turf, with Averill Racing and CCF Racing Stable’s 3-year-old filly R Quick Temper rallying for a length-and-three-quarter triumph. Fernando De La Cruz rode R Quick Temper, which paid $12.20 to win.

The fourth victory, which was the easiest of the bunch, came in the eighth race with 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Taipan’s Advantage. He posted a six-and-three-quarter length victory under Allen in a snappy time of 1:10.46. Taipan’s Advantage is owned by his breeder, Lorna Possler.

The eighth race was a $25,000 claiming event; Bennett had made Taipan’s Advantage eligible for an $8,000 price tag in her previous outing, a six-length victory on Feb. 13. “It’s like playing cards,” he said with a grin of that earlier gamble. “If you don’t put the money down to call, you can’t see the hand.”

Today’s card also featured the final legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series for horses which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2015-16.

In the Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test, contested as the seventh race, 5-year-old gelding All for Us rallied in the stretch and held off a determined charge from Ringold for a nose victory. All for Us set a mile-and-three-eighths turf course record of 2:16.16, bettering the standard of 2:19.81 set last season by Professor Pegasus at the rarely contested distance.

High Side finished third in the eight-horse field.

Erin Wilkinson, the assistant for winning trainer Tom Proctor, was confident All for Us would be able to get the three-turn distance, based on his victory last August at Delaware Park in an 11-furlong turf allowance.

“I had no questions at all,” she said. “That’s his spot. He likes going long.”

Winning jockey Allen said the race set up almost perfectly for his mount’s closing kick. “I just let him break on his own, and when I saw (long-shot Barat) take off, I knew they were setting a hot pace. I just sat behind (All Call) and (Caleb’s Comet), and when (All Call) took off, I knew they’d be coming back.

“I kept my horse relaxed most of the way, and at about the 3/8-mile pole I let him start picking it up. Then I set him loose at the quarter pole and said ‘Let’s go steal it.’ ”

Allen sensed Ringold’s late charge, but didn’t feel overly threatened. “I think if my horse had seen him sooner, he’d have taken off again, because he took off after the wire. I had a lot of horse,” added Allen.

All for Us paid $9.20 as the second wagering choice. Now 4-for-10 lifetime, he is owned by Glen Hill Farm. He is by Tiz Wonderful out of Patricias Prospect, by A.P. Indy.

The Female Division of the Tampa Turf Test, the ninth race on the card, also offered a thrilling finish, as 9-1 shot Sequiota rallied from near the back of the pack to post a length-and-three-quarter margin from even-money favorite Daddy’s Boo.

Scott Spieth rode the winner, which posted a time of 2:17.78 for the 11 furlongs. Sequiota was claimed for $16,000 three starts back by trainer Ray Trisler for her current owner, wife Linda Trisler; the 5-year-old mare is now 2-for-3 with a second for her new connections.

Miss Giacomo rallied for third, a neck behind Daddy’s Boo, in the 10-horse field.

“(Sequiota) is bred very well, by Awesome Again out of a Dynaformer mare (Transition Time), and she is bred for this distance,” Ray Trisler said. “She may not be as fast as the rest, but I never thought distance would be a problem.

“I can’t say enough about the job Scott did. When he crossed over getting to the stretch and got her to the inside, I felt good about her chances.”

“I was able to save some ground on the far turn, and once I opened her up I felt pretty confident,” Spieth said. “I was following the No. 1 (Babe’s Ruler), and when she moved a hole opened up inside and my horse had a quick enough turn of foot to get up and go.”

Trisler said Sequiota is maturing with age. “The people who have worked with her, her groom and exercise rider, have done a great job,” he said.

Jockey Allen’s fourth winner came in the 11th and final race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Cosmopolitan Girl for owners Peter Edwards and Diamond M Stable and trainer Ian Wilkes.

Sunday’s 10-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except easter Sunday, March 27 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.