Gun Runner pulls away down the stretch to claim Louisiana Derby title _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton comes into the paddock area to watch the horses mount up for the 103rd running of the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby during Louisiana Derby Day at the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots in New Orleans, La. Saturday, March 26, 2016.

Tom and Gayle Benson have something to boogie about again.

Maybe it wasn’t quite how they wanted to do it Saturday at the Fair Grounds, but at least it was something to cheer.

And fortunately for them, they’ll get another chance in May at Churchill Downs.

And for the Bensons, that should be just fine for now.

After all, there hasn’t been a whole lot for the couple to celebrate of late.

The Saints missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans have struggled mightily in an injury-plagued season.

And, of course, there are the ongoing legal battles.

But then came Saturday, when their third franchise — their horses — gave them something to celebrate.

Tom’s Ready finished second and Mo Tom was fourth in the Louisiana Derby, likely sending both of the Benson horses to the Kentucky Derby.

“That’s just unbelievable,” Gayle Benson said. “To think that we started this pretty much on a whim two years ago, and to have come this far is beyond our dreams.”

As big of a day as it was for the Bensons — even Saints coach Sean Payton watched from near the track — it still didn’t have the finish they had hoped for.

Mo Tom entered as a 3-2 favorite but finished a disappointing fourth.

“We’re disappointed about Mo Tom and for (trainer Tom Amoss) because we all wanted to win the Louisiana Derby so much,” Gayle Benson said.

Jockey Corey Lanerie, who rode Mo Tom, was hard on himself after the loss. He knew how badly the Bensons wanted this one, especially right in his backyard.

“This might have meant more than the Kentucky Derby to him,” Lanerie said. “It’s a big letdown. It’s just something I have to live with. It’s my fault.”

It was Lanerie’s costly decision at the three-sixteenths to eighth-pole that derailed any chances of victory.

“It was just a bad ride on my part,” Lanerie said. “I didn’t keep him out of trouble. That’s all I needed to do. Some of the decisions I made in the top of the lane were the wrong ones, and it cost us the race. I’m sorry to the owners and trainers. Everybody put so much time in the horses, and I come and mess it up.”

Amoss, still seeking his first Louisiana Derby victory, was visibly upset after the loss.

“What a shame,” he said. “Watching this was like going to the schoolyard and watching your kid get beat up by another kid. It’s so hard to watch something like that with all the preparation we do.”

Meanwhile, Tom’s Ready trainer Dallas Stewart and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. had plenty to smile about after coming up second to Gun Runner.

“Any time you get down to these last horses, it’s crunch time,” Hernandez said. “You need these horses to step up and run big. Dallas had him ready to run. Now we have six weeks to get ready for the Derby. Hopefully we will be in the winner’s circle there.”

Greg Bensel, spokesman for Tom Benson — who was not made available for comment — knows just how much that would mean to the owner.

“It’s fun for Mr. Benson,” Bensel said. “Here we are, we have a Pelicans game (starting) in a half-hour. We know what’s going on with the Pelicans. They are struggling a little bit. We are in the middle of free agency heading into the NFL draft. He loves the activity. But not a day goes by that he doesn’t ask about the horses and how they are doing.”

On Saturday, they did just fine. Gayle is hoping for even better in May.

“It’s going to be a great day at Churchill Downs, and we’re going up there to win,” she said.