Less than two years ago, GMB Racing didn’t exist. And now, the fledgling Tom and Gayle Benson-owned stable has two entries in the Kentucky Derby.
Mo Tom joined Tom’s Ready in the field for the May 7 Run for the Roses on Monday when qualifier Cupid withdrew.
That elevated Tom Amoss-trained Mo Tom into the 20th and final qualifying spot, which is determined by points awarded in 34 designated races, the last of which were run Saturday. Tom’s Ready, trained by Dallas Stewart, was already secure at No. 16.
“We are honored to have a chance to run in the most-prestigious horse race in the country and are grateful to Dallas Stewart and Tom Amoss,” Saints/Pelicans Tom Benson said in a statement. “Placing two of our horses into the Kentucky Derby is very humbling for my wife, Gayle, and me.
“But what has us most excited is sharing this with everyone in New Orleans. We look forward to bringing a New Orleans feel to Louisville.”
The idea for GMB (Gayle Marie Benson) Racing came about during the Saints’ 2014 training camp in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Under the guidance of Saints/Pelicans senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel, Stewart, Amoss and fellow New Orleanian Al Stall were given more than $1 million to purchase seven thoroughbreds, which included Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready.
And now, two have survived the qualifying process to reach a lofty ownership status. The only other owner with two qualifiers this year is Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the deputy ruler of Dubai.
“I’m very happy for the Bensons,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty remarkable for them to have two horses in the Derby, because you just never know. But being in it’s one thing. Winning is another, which is what we’re all trying to do.”
There are two other strong Louisiana presences in the Derby. Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator, trained and ridden by brothers Keith and Kent Desormeaux of Maurice, is rated third on the New York Times’ Derby Dartboard.
The Desormeauxs are the third trainer/jockey brother combination in the Derby’s 143-year history. Randy and Gerald Romero with Dixieland Heat in 1993 are one of the other such pairings.
Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner wound up as the Derby points leader with 151 and is rated seventh on the dartboard.
Both Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom appeared to have their Derby berths secured after they finished second and fourth behind Gun Runner in the Louisiana Derby.
That left Tom’s Ready with 44 points and Mo Tom at 32 with five major prep races remaining. In the first three years, using points to determine the Derby field, 20 had been good enough to get in.
But other horses pushed past them, including Creator, Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, who finished 1-2-3 in the Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, dropping Mo Tom to 21st.
But Cupid, the Arkansas Derby favorite who already had 50 points, finished 10th. And Monday, trainer Bob Baffert said Cupid would need minor surgery to correct a breathing problem, adding the horse would be directed toward the Preakness on May 21.
So Mo Tom got the bump. Four other horses, including Dazzling Gem, who was third in the Louisiana Derby, are next in line for berths should there be more scratches before the deadline of May 6.
“We’ve still got a way to go,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to train and stay healthy and basically just do our job. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s the way racing goes.”
Tom’s Ready is Stewart’s sixth Kentucky Derby horse. He saddled the runners-up in 2013 and 2014 with Golden Soul and Commanding Curve.
Last year, his Tale of Verve was ruled to have missed the cutoff time for entering after some late scratches but wound up finishing second to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Preakness.
Amoss’ best Derby finish was fifth by Mylute in 2013. Last year, the Amoss-trained War Story finished 16th. Despite troubled rides in the Risen Star (third) and Louisiana Derby after he had earlier won the Lecomte, Mo Tom is still ranked 10th on the Derby Dartboard.
Although Amoss strongly criticized jockey Corey Lanerie after the Louisiana Derby, Bensel said no decision has been made on who will ride Mo Tom in the Kentucky Derby.
Lanerie, a Lafayette native, is a 10-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, although he has made only one previous Derby start.
Brian Hernandez, also from Lafayette, will continue riding Tom’s Ready, Stewart said. It will be the first Derby mount for Hernandez.
“Everybody’s got something to prove when they get to the Derby,” Stewart said. “It looks like we’ve got at least five horses with a shot.
“Right now, it’s been so far, so good. But we’ve got to get a little better.”