Gayle Benson got into horse racing for the first time after being convinced by her husband, Saints owner Tom Benson, who owned several horses at the Fair Grounds during the 1970s.
“We thought how great it would be to win a Super Bowl, win an NBA title and win the Kentucky Derby,” Gayle Benson said via email.
On Saturday at the Fair Grounds, the Bensons will see how an early step toward that turns out in the 72nd running of the Lecomte Stakes for top 3-year-old horses. It’s the first race on The Road to the Louisiana Derby on March 26 and perhaps, ultimately, the Kentucky Derby.
Gayle Benson’s GMB Racing will have two horses in the Lecomte — Mo Tom, the 7-2 favorite, and Tom’s Ready, the 5-1 second favorite.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the people who enjoy this road to the Triple Crown to come and see a group of horses who potentially could be running toward that goal,” said Tom Amoss, trainer of Mo Tom. “It’s no different than watching a great running back compete in high school. You don’t know what the future holds, but there’s going to be some surprises, and some very pleasant surprises, at the Lecomte for some horses.”
The Bensons came by some good horses when they dispatched three New Orleans-born trainers — Amoss, Dallas Stewart, who trains Tom’s Ready, and Al Stall — to Keeneland with a budget to buy the best horses they could find, Amoss said. Stall’s horse has yet to race.
Although 3-year-old race horses don’t have much of a résumé this early in the season, Mo Tom was made the favorite on the strength of winning the Street Sense at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1 then finishing third in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill later in the month.
“He was third, but he was closing fast at the end in a big race with some really good horses,” Amoss said.
Tom’s Ready was second to Mo Tom and eighth in the Jockey Club. However, Stewart said Tom’s Ready continues to mature well, and the trainer is encouraged by his horse’s finishing second in an allowance race a month ago at the Fair Grounds won by Pinnacle Peak, who also is in the Lecomte.
“(Tom’s Ready) had one race over the track, and that was great,” Stewart said. “It was a distance race, and he ran hard.
“He looks like he’s maturing good. I like the weight he’s carrying. It looks like he’s built some muscle tone. This time of the year, it looks like he’s going the right way.”
Amoss said Mo Tom is not showing a lot of muscle-tone development, which Amoss attributes to his being born in May, which is late for a racehorse. Most racehorses are born in the first three months of the year.
Of course, there’s a lot to like about Mo Tom.
“Physically, he’s a very tall, lengthy horse, which are great attributes to have,” Amoss said. “In racing, we like to talk about a horse’s mind in terms of how relaxed he is. Nothing rattles him. That’s important to a horse’s success.
“In human terms, he is a thinker. And, it goes with his style of racing, which is to break out of the gate, sit back there, then try to run everybody down in the end.”
With this being the first leg for the 3-year-olds here — the Risen Star Stakes is next on next on Feb. 20 — Amoss said winning the race is not most important, although that would be exciting.
He’s looking at the Lecomte in terms of going forward. The race is a mile and 70 yards. The Risen Star is a mile and a sixteenth, and the Louisiana Derby is a mile and an eighth.
“He doesn’t have to win, but his effort in the last portion of the race needs to be an encouraging one,” Amoss said. “He needs to finish well on the end and look like the extra distance, which will be coming his way in future races, is something that’s going to benefit him. That’s what’s really important.”
Tom’s Ready, whom Amoss said positions himself in races better than Mo Tom, was able to get into the race as an entry mate only because Noble Thought was scratched. In a field of 12, Stewart said this will not be a two-horse race, citing Pinnacle Peak for one as “a really good horse who could win.” And, Zayat Stable’s Z Royal with Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza aboard, also is a threat.
Gayle Benson said she understands how difficult it is to win in horse racing. However, she again is hoping for the best.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed for (Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready),” she said. “They ran first and second in (the Street Sense), and we would love the same — in any order — in the Lecomte.”
Asked if the Street Sense was her proudest moment as a neophyte race-horse owner, she said, “That day is coming — May 7, 2016 — in Louisville.”
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