Gayle and Tom Benson’s beaming faces said it all.
Trainer Tom Amoss was pumping his fist — and his counterpart, Dallas Stewart, walked around like a proud papa.
The $200,000 Lecomte Stakes couldn’t have gone any better for the Bensons — save for a dead heat — as Mo Tom won the race and Tom’s Ready finished second Saturday at the Fair Grounds. Both horses are owned by Gayle Benson’s GMB Racing.
“It’s very, very exciting,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the Kentucky Derby.”
Tom Benson said he “expected one but not two,” even though Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready also finished one-two in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1.
Next up will be the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20, then the Louisiana Derby on March 26. More importantly, their showings in the Lecomte, the first leg on the way to the Louisiana Derby, indicated that both 3-year-olds can handle distances longer than Saturday’s 1 mile and 70 yards. That is particularly true for Mo Tom, who was in a close race with Tom’s Ready down the stretch but pulled away to a 21/4-length win.
Amoss, Mo Tom’s trainer, said the race set up almost perfectly for his horse. Jockey Corey Lanerie laid off the pace and made his move around the 3/8th pole.
Mo Tom won 10 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby; Tom’s Ready got four. The 20 highest earners get in.
“We didn’t take control until late,” Amoss said. “But these races coming up are farther than this. I think there’s better to come. We got what we hoped for.”
Avoiding traffic was key for Mo Tom, tall and lengthy with long strides. Even in a relatively short race, Mo Tom’s closing speed made that a nonissue.
“I took him wide,” Lanerie said. “I was on the rail with him through the middle of the turn, and then I saw a lot of traffic. I asked him to go a little bit and felt like I had a lot of horse. So, I said, ‘Let me just put him out in the clear.’ ”
Tom’s Ready jockey, Shaun Bridgmohan, had the look of someone who wished he had the race back. Unlike Lanerie, who has been on Mo Tom all along, Bridgmohan rode Tom’s Ready, who won four Kentucky Derby points, for the first time Saturday.
“I didn’t know him as much as I wish I knew him,” he said. “He had quicker acceleration than I thought.”
Stewart said Bridgmohan urged Tom’s Ready sooner than he should have but that it was a great trip.
Bridgmohan was on Tom’s Ready because the horse’s regular jockey, Robby Albarado, opted to ride Fish Trappe Road when Tom’s Ready was made the 15th horse in a 14-horse field (but got in when Noble Thought was scratched).
“I had to go with the sure mount,” Albarado said.
Fish Trappe Road finished seventh.
Asked whether Albarado will be aboard Tom’s Ready in the Risen Star, Stewart said, “We’ll see.”