Brad Myers, The News Journal
Gerald Bennett has saddled 3,579 winners at thoroughbred tracks all over North America, in a training career that stretches more than 40 years.
And he has done it with a personal touch.
“If you love these horses and they’re happy in the atmosphere that they’re in, in my stable they all know me personally,” Bennett said Tuesday. “They get a mint, they get carrots, they all come to me. They all know me.”
The veteran trainer has 42 horses at Delaware Park, with more on the way. He figures to be a major force when the 79th season of live racing begins Saturday at the Stanton oval.
The 72-year-old native of Nova Scotia has spent only one summer at Delaware Park before, winning 10 races in 1999. But Bennett was the leading trainer at the recently completed Tampa Bay Downs meet, and he believes his horses will fit well here.
“It looked like in the condition book they had lots of the kinds of races for the horses we have,” Bennett said. “We have a lot of 3-year-olds right now. … They have a lot of races for us.”
Bennett raced several summer meets at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., and spent last summer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He shipped about 20 horses to Delaware two weeks ago, sent 20 more earlier this week and will bring in some 2-year-olds throughout the summer as they mature enough to start their racing careers.
“We shipped up the biggest majority of them late, kind of stayed to help Tampa finish out the end of their meet,” Bennett said. “They’ll get ready to run pretty quick. As long as we have the spots to run in, I always try to run my horses every three weeks when I can.”
He hopes to get off to a good start Saturday, saddling 3-1 morning line second choice Thunder Duke in the first race of the season at 1:15 p.m.
He will also start 3-2 early favorite Valueable Charmer in the sixth race, a $36,000 allowance. The 3-year-old filly finished second in two stakes races at Tampa over the winter, and if she continues to progress Bennett said Valueable Charmer could be pointed toward the Grade III $300,000 Delaware Oaks on July 9.
That is the track’s second-biggest race of the season, falling a week before the Grade I $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 16.
Horse trainer Gerald Bennett pets one the horses he is training at Delaware Park. The veteran trainer has more than 3,500 career victories.
Bennett is one of several new trainers coming to try their luck at the 81-day meet, which runs through Oct. 15. George Leonard III has competed all over the Midwest and Florida, but will stable in the Mid-Atlantic for the first time with about 20 horses at Delaware Park.
Keith Nations moved his operation from Northern California to Parx Racing near Philadelphia in 2013. This year, he plans to keep 30-40 horses at Delaware Park and 10-15 at Parx.
Jamie Ness, Delaware Park’s leading trainer last season, returns along with familiar faces Larry Jones, Graham Motion, Tim Ritchey, Randy Allen, Randy Nunley, Michael Gorham, Johnathan Sheppard, Tim Ice and Scott Lake.
Bennett should be a welcome addition. He ranks 19th all-time and 11th among active trainers in career wins. His 17,399 starters have earned more than $34 million over the years, and he tasted glory at the top level in 1990 when he trained Beau Genius to victory in the Grade I Philip Iselin Handicap at Monmouth.
Beau Genius won 19 of 42 starts and earned more than $1 million. He took Bennett to the pinnacle of the sport with a start in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he finished 10th behind famed winner Unbridled.
“I love winning races, and looking for that horse that could get you to the [Kentucky] Derby or get you to where we were before,” Bennett said. “When we had Beau, we shipped all over the country. I wish a lot of trainers could get those kinds of horses.”
Bennett may find another star in the crop of 2-year-olds coming here this summer. No matter how fast they are – or aren’t – he knows every horse in his barn.
“There’s a lot of love for these horses,” Bennett said. “To me, they’re like your kids. When they run and give their heart and do the best they can do, when they come back to the barn you show them that compassion. They pick up on it. They know.”