By Tampa Bay Press Staff — If it’s June, Gerald Bennett must be at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale (moved from April this year due to COVID-19), looking to strengthen his Winning Stables, Inc., roster with future Thoroughbred standouts.
Or he could be driving back from Delaware Park with wife Mary after delivering a shipment of 13 runners from Tampa Bay Downs for the Wilmington, Del., meeting that began Wednesday.
With a few days remaining in the Oldsmar oval’s 2019-2020 season, Bennett still can be found at his barn overseeing a few dozen horses, many of which have helped him capture a fifth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training championship with 60 victories (the current season concludes with racing Wednesday and June 30, with the 2020-2021 meeting beginning July 1).
The 76-year-old conditioner shared his first Oldsmar training title in 2010-2011 with Jamie Ness, the track’s all-time record-holder with nine titles, won consecutively from 2006-2015.
What’s different this season: Bennett has also wrapped up his first Tampa Bay Downs owners title with 23 victories. Bennett, who sent out 15 winners under his Winning Stables, Inc., banner and eight in various partnerships, is four ahead of both Godolphin, LLC (19 victories) and owner-trainer Juan Arriagada, who won 11 races individually and eight in various partnerships.
“It’s great to be able to keep going strong year after year,” said the Springhill, Nova Scotia native, who ranks 14th all-time in North America with 3,903 victories. “You need that fire and desire to do it right because it’s a lot of work to stay successful, and right now I still have it.”
Bennett, the father of trainer Dale Bennett, has recruited new owners to the sport virtually from the start of his career, when he competed in Canada. “It’s important for the sport to bring in new owners,” he said.
“You get those friendships established and win some races, and they bring more of their friends into it. I’m fortunate to have owners who like to run their horses where they can win, and hopefully you can buy more young stock that you can turn into stakes horses.”
Owners who partnered with Winning Stables on victories this season included James Georgeades and Ron Pugliese, Jr., of JPG2 and Mr. Pug, LLC; Harold L. Queen; Arnoriver Racing (Mike Arnone); Martin Goodell; and Mary Thomas and Michael Vitello.
While Bennett maintains an excellent rapport with his owners, it is in the barn area where he seems most at home. His reputation for turning claiming horses into allowance winners and allowance horses into stakes performers has been honed through years of study, dedication to his profession and subscribing to the belief that no detail is too small.
Among his best horses are millionaire Beau Genius, who won the Grade I Philip H. Iselin Handicap and the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth in 1990; Secret Romeo, a multiple-stakes winner who earned $865,790; Bucky’s Prayer, a mare who won the 2007 Lightning City Stakes; Fast Flying Rumor, who set a Tampa Bay Downs Beyer Speed Figure record of 108 (since bettered) while winning the 2016 Turf Dash and R Angel Katelyn, who won three stakes races during the 2016-2017 meeting.
Bennett’s lone stakes victory this season came with 6-year-old Florida-bred mare Lady’s Island, who won the Minaret Stakes for owners Matties Racing Stable and Averill Racing on Feb. 15.
Win or lose, Bennett is back at the barn by 5 a.m. the next day to oversee each horse’s regimen. “I’ll be walking in the shed row when a horse stops in front of me, and the hot walker is amazed because the horse knows me,” he said.
“Mary says it’s because I feed them peppermints, but they get to know your voice and have confidence in what you’re doing.” In that regard, Bennett’s Thoroughbred athletes aren’t much different than the owners he trains for and the bettors who support his horses.