Gayle & Tom Benson | Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
By Michael Adolphson
After an eight-wide trip and respectable fifth-place finish in Saturday’s salty GI Cigar Mile, Dallas Stewart-trained Tom’s Ready (More Than Ready) capped a 21-race, 28-month career that saw him clash and hold his own against the very best of his generation. The 4-year-old colt closed out his racing tenure as one of the toughest milers in training and finished at the top of his game, including a flashy GIII Bold Ruler S. win in his penultimate start (earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure).
More importantly, the nearly black grandson of Broad Brush was the ringleader for the racing renaissance of New Orleans’ famed Benson Family, earning more than $1 million, winning three graded stakes and taking his popular Big Easy connections to the biggest dances–the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Breeders’ Cup Mile.
“He was a real war horse,” Stewart said. “He traveled around and ran his race over many different tracks and surfaces. He ran competitively against the best horses and really stepped up a lot on big days. He’s a very sound horse who was a lot of fun to campaign. The Bensons were kind enough to let me train for them and never restrained me. They love racing, come to the races even when they don’t have a horse running and they’re icons in New Orleans. Tom’s Ready was one of the first horses we got for them and I look forward to seeing what he does as a stallion.”
Racing as GMB Racing, Tom and Gayle Benson returned with a flourish into racing after a multi-decade hiatus and channeled the passion they have for the professional sports teams they own–the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and Pelicans of the NBA–into a racing product that competes at the highest level. Tom’s Ready tops a group that includes graded stakes winner Mo Tom (Uncle Mo), talented Saratoga allowance winner Tom’s d’Etat (Smart Strike) and Grade I-placed juvenile Lone Sailor (Majestic Warrior).
Tom’s Ready now heads to stud at Spendthrift Farm, where he will stand for $6,000 and participate in said establishment’s “Share The Upside” program for a fee of $7,500.
“He has been a great horse for us,” Gayle Benson said. “He gives his best effort every time he races and has stayed healthy for us. He and Dallas have been a great fit–in the way Dallas trains and the way this horse has responded. We did not know what to expect (when he first started training), but we are very proud of Tom’s Ready and certainly very proud of what lies ahead for him as a he stands as a stallion at Spendthrift. We have a small broodmare band at Benson Farm, and we will certainly be sending him a few mares.”
GMB Racing is managed by Greg Bensel, who also serves as the Senior Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting for the Saints and Pelicans. Bensel, a long time racing fan, has helped guide the outfit to a 19% strike rate and nearly $26,000 in average earnings per start from 80 races. In 2017, the operation has struck at 22%, giving Bensel and the Bensons added fervor for the future.
“We continue to grow our racing stable for GMB Racing and our broodmare band at Benson Farm,” Bensel said. “We are excited about all of our 2-year-olds, but are keen about Lone Sailor for [trainer] Tom Amoss. Also, Tom’s d’Etat has left Benson Farm after rehabbing and will be back to Al Stall [Jr.] as a 5-year-old.”
The beating heart of the Benson operation has become the aforementioned Benson Farm at Greenwood Lodge in Paris, Kentucky. A 600-acre beauty, it is a favorite getaway spot for the couple, while also serving as a rehab facility in another fashion for their equines.
“We have our established racing operations in GMB Racing and now the Bensons have their farm, where it is mostly a private concern, but we do have some boarders and welcome boarders and other clients that have yearlings that need sales prep,” Bensel continued. “It has all come full circle.”
For now, the focus for GMB is kickstarting a second career for its first stallion Tom’s Ready and hoping the best for its soon-to-be 3-year-old class. It will be difficult, though, to live up to their little blazed beast, who was as tough as he was compact and barreled home with the determination of a Saints running back in the lane.
“We got in the business in 2014 with seven yearlings, of which two made the Kentucky Derby in 2016, so it will be hard to repeat that again,” Bensel concluded. “Our hopes are to be good contributors to the racing and breeding industry as we move forward.