by Mike Henry


Gerald Bennett is a realist. And on the far turn of the eighth race, with his 5-year-old gelding Lucky Rascal languishing near the back of the nine-horse field, he was prepared to savor his three earlier victories on the card.

But Lucky Rascal and jockey Erick Rodriguez had other ideas. The duo staged a whirlwind rally up the rail for a neck victory from On the River, giving Bennett a perfect 4-for-4 afternoon to tie a Tampa Bay Downs record.

Bennett was 4-for-4 last season on March 5. Kathleen O’Connell is believed to be the only other trainer to achieve that feat at Tampa Bay Downs. Jamie Ness has sent out four winners on two separate occasions, but from more than four starters.

“He (Lucky Rascal) started dropping back a little on the turn, but he does that,” said Bennett, who earlier today was named the inaugural Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month. “But when I saw him coming right there (inside the 1/8-mile pole in the 6-furlong sprint), I said ‘He’s going to make it.’

“Erick rode him perfectly. I told him whatever he did, stay right on the rail, because that’s the only way he was going to win, and if we lose it’s my fault. He just sat there and stayed patient and snuck him through.”

Lucky Rascal is owned by Black Type Stable, consisting of husband-and-wife Joe and Roseann Carlino and their son, Anthony. They live in nearby Spring Hill.

Bennett, who is 11th among active North American trainers with 3,617 victories, is off to one of the fastest starts in track history. He has posted 10 victories from 17 starts, with two seconds and two thirds.

“The horses are doing what they’ve been training up to, and as long as we keep putting them in the right conditions, I think we’ll continue to do well,” Bennett said. “I have a couple of others that haven’t made a start yet that I’m high on.”

On Saturday, Bennett saddled the winners of both stakes races on the Cotillion Festival Day card, sending out J J Brevan Stable’s 2-year-old colt Chance of Luck to win the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes and Averill Racing, CCF Racing Stable and K Lauren Racing’s Florida-bred juvenile R Angel Katelyn to win the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes.

“It’s a great feeling when it all comes together, and when they run like that it gives you something else to look forward to,” he said.

One of his earlier victories at the meeting came with Be Nice Or Leave, a 5-year-old mare owned by his assistant, Juan Cacho Castro.

Bennett won today’s Turf Dash Prep, a 5-furlong allowance/$100,000 optional claiming event, with 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Bill’s Passion, who held off One Lucky Step by a neck after an exciting stretch duel. The latter is trained by his wife, Mary Bennett.

Oldsmar leading jockey Daniel Centeno rode the winner, who is owned in partnership by his breeder, Harold L. Queen, and the Bennetts under their Winning Stables banner.

 Centeno also rode two other winners for Bennett.

Bill’s Passion, who won for the first time in seven turf starts (he has five seconds on the grass), paid $6.20 as the wagering favorite.

The $100,000 Turf Dash is Dec. 31. Gerald Bennett also trains last year’s Turf Dash winner, Fast Flying Rumor, who finished sixth in the Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday and is a candidate to defend last season’s victory.

Bill’s Passion won despite throwing both rear shoes at the start. “That’s probably why he came away a step slow,” his trainer said.

One Lucky Step, a 4-year-old homebred gelding owned by Winning Stables, was making his first start since undergoing throat surgery following a fifth-place finish in an allowance/optional claiming race at Laurel on July 23. His strong effort probably accounted for Mary’s partly tongue-in-cheek jest afterward.

“I’ll beat him (Bill’s Passion) in the stakes,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to beat him today, because he’s only had two workouts in five months. He ran a heck of a race today.”

He did indeed, but at this stage of the meeting, his wife is probably the only person who even dares predict a victory against Gerald Bennett. His other victories came in the third race with Angel Falls, a 4-year-old filly owned by Averill Racing, and in the sixth with Relentless Strike, a 2-year-old colt owned by James P. Georgeades and Michael A. Pugliese.

Relentless Strike was claimed from the victory for $25,000 by trainer Keith Nations for new owner Vince Campanella.

Bennett, who recalls his wife training five winners on a single card at the defunct Detroit Race Course, stayed relatively low-key while those around him, especially the joyful Rodriguez and the owners, celebrated Lucky Rascal’s triumph. “I’ll be there (at the barn) earlier tomorrow,” Bennett said. “That’s the way this sport is – you have to have the desire to win and be competitive. But it’s fun, too, and days like this make the bad days and worrying about things all worth it.”

Lightning City Stakes nominees announced. Eclipse Award finalist Lady Shipman and 2015 race winner Richies Sweetheart are among 32 fillies and mares nominated to the 13th edition of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes at 5 furlongs on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course on Saturday, Dec. 17.

The versatile Lady Shipman, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred owned by Ranlo Investments and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, had a superb 2015 campaign while in the barn of Oldsmar trainer Kathleen O’Connell. She was 7-for-10 for the year en route to being named a finalist for an Eclipse as Outstanding Female Sprinter, setting a 6-furlong track record in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sprint for fillies on the Ocala Training Center all-weather track and establishing a course mark in the 5 ½-furlong Smart N Fancy at Saratoga on the Mellon Turf Course.

Lady Shipman finished second by a neck to Mongolian Saturday in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland. She is 5-for-9 this year under McLaughlin’s tutelage, including a victory in the Grade III Royal North at Woodbine on July 31 and three other stakes victories. Her career earnings are $902,387.

Richies Sweetheart, a 5-year-old Illinois-bred mare owned by Larry Rivelli, Richard Ravin and Patricia’s Hope and trained by Rivelli, won last year’s Lightning City under jockey Dean Butler. She added the Honor the Hero Stakes at Canterbury in Minnesota to her ledger on May 30 and is 14-for-31 lifetime with earnings of $571,615.

The nominees also include the 2014-2015 season’s Lighting City winner, 5-year-old Double Secret, a Florida-bred mare owned and trained by Adolfo Exposito; 6-year-old Florida-bred multiple graded-stakes-placed You Bought Her, a two-time winner of the Minaret Stakes here on the main track, owned by Richard Perkins and Hinsley Racing Stable and trained by David Hinsley; and 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Equation, 3-for-3 in her career for owner Ben McElroy and trainer Wesley Ward, the conditioner of 2014 Lightning City winner Shrinking Violet.

Gerald Bennett has nominated Royal Jewely, a 4-year-old Florida-bred owned by Michael Reynolds and Anthony J. Piarulli.

De La Cruz reaches milestone. Jockey Fernando De La Cruz earned victory No. 200 of 2016, guiding 3-year-old maiden filly Tempest Trickster to a half-length victory in the ninth race on the turf for owners Pewter Stable and A Delaperriere Stables and trainer Kathleen DeMasi.

De La Cruz, who won the title at Indiana Grand Race Course this year with 132 victories, is one of 15 jockeys in North America to win 200 races this year and the only one based at Tampa Bay Downs.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.