Thursday, May 4, 2023
OLDSMAR - By 7 Wednesday morning, Gerald Bennett was on the road again. He and his wife Mary and a blacksmith friend were hauling nine horses in two vans to New Jersey as he prepares for opening day at Monmouth Park on May 13.
Bennett still has another 22 or so horses to drive north from the Tampa Bay Downs backside before launching his effort to improve on last year’s 22-victory performance, which was good for fourth in the Monmouth standings. “We’ve got seven ‘babies’ that have been training pretty good,” he said. “We’ll stop on a couple of them for about a month, and hopefully they’ll keep moving forward this summer and we’ll have them ready for (Tampa Bay Downs) next year.”
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Bennett’s ability to balance his focus on the present with the future, both near and long-term, is a major factor in his career-long success. He has trained 4,114 winners, more than all but 13 trainers in North American history.
Tampa Bay Downs has been a huge part of that story. About six or seven weeks ago, it became crystal-clear no one was going to catch Bennett in the Leading Trainers competition. Now with 49 winners, he is 20 ahead of runner-up Jon Arnett. Bennett is also the top Oldsmar conditioner by earnings, his $1,045,262 total more than $400,000 ahead of second-place Todd Pletcher.
More noteworthy is that this is Bennett’s eighth consecutive title, one shy of the track record set by Jamie Ness from 2006-2007 through 2014-2015. Bennett, who tied Ness for the 2010-2011 title with 61 winners, has won nine overall, tied with Ness for the most ever locally.
Bennett will be honored as the track’s top trainer in a winner’s-circle ceremony Saturday.
“It’s always an achievement to be on top. You know that whatever happens, sometime years from now someone is going to be looking at the list and saying ‘Oh, yeah, this is the guy who set the record,’ ” Bennett said.
“Mary wants me to retire, but I think we’ll have to come back next fall and get one more (title) and be on top.”
The Springhill, Nova Scotia product neither claims to be smarter nor harder-working than other trainers, but much of his day seems to revolve around the horses. He is one of the first trainers on the track each morning for workouts, and he pays rapt attention to the racing action from his Grandstand box seat. He plays the claiming game as well as any Oldsmar trainer, moving his horses up and down the price ladder in his efforts to keep his rivals guessing.
“I might claim a horse for $25,000 and drop him to $16,000 next time and lose him, but he’ll win the race. Then (the new connections) will put him in for $20,000 and I’ll claim him right back. So even with the taxes, I’ll make money,” he said.
“You have to enter them where they belong and are comfortable competing. Plus, you have to have the stock and the owners,” added Bennett, who said he is fortunate to have good owners who trust him with their good horses.
Bennett’s 2022-2023 list of Tampa Bay Downs winners is headed by Dreaming of Snow. The 3-year-old filly, owned by Bennett’s Winning Stables in partnership with Team Equistaff, registered the biggest upset of the meet when she won the Suncoast Stakes on Feb. 11 by a neck from Wonder Wheel, last year’s NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and 2022 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly. Dreaming of Snow paid $78.
Dreaming of Snow, who will miss some time after having a chip removed from an ankle, also finished second in the Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies Stakes behind Munnys Gold, who set a 7-furlong track record.
Other Bennett-trained stakes-winners this season include 5-year-old mare R Adios Jersey, who won the City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes in December; 5-year-old mare Tap Dance Fever, who won the Wayward Lass Stakes on Jan. 14; and Magical Warrior, a 4-year-old gelding who won the Florida Cup NYRABETS Sprint on March 26.