The Week in Review: At Tampa Bay Downs, An Unlikely Win for the ‘Little Guy’

As the field turned for home in Saturday’s Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs, Dreaming of Snow (Jess’s Dream), trained by Gerald Bennett, had the lead, but it sure looked like she’d never hold on. It wasn’t just that she was 38-1 and had been pressed most of the way, it was who was chasing her, monsters from the stables of super trainers Mark Casse and Todd Pletcher in Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) and Julia Shining (Curlin). Could a horse from the barn of a 78-year-old claiming trainer who had won all of two graded stakes in his career and none in 33 years, possibly pull this off?

She could and she did.

In what was arguably the biggest upset of the year in a major race, Dreaming of Snow, who was a tiring fourth in the seven-furlong Gasparilla S. in her previous start, defeated champion Eclipse Award winner Wonder Wheel by a neck in the Suncoast. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to Julia Shining in third. In what has become more and more rare in this sport, a David beat not one, but two Goliaths.

“To win a race like this, that’s what you dream of,” Bennett said.

Though Bennett, entering Sunday, had 4,090 winners, 14th best among all North American trainers, he has always operated well outside the spotlight. Born in Nova Scotia, he began training in his native Canada in 1976 and in 2021 became the winningest Canadian-born trainer of all time. He moved on to the now-defunct Michigan circuit, where he became a force at places like Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park and, later on, Great Lakes Downs. In the late eighties and in 1990, Bennett got a brief taste of what it was like to win at the highest level when he campaigned Beau Genius (Bold Ruckus), whose 13 career stakes wins included victories in the GI Philip H. Iselin H. and the GII Michigan Mile and One-Eighth H. He has not won a graded stakes since Beau Genius’s win in the 1990 Iselin at Monmouth Park.

At an age when a lot of trainers would be slowing down, Bennett has been enjoying some of his best years. He is leading the current standings at Tampa Bay Downs, where he will be seeking his eighth straight training title. He has won 830 career races at Tampa, where, when it comes to the higher-class races, it’s not unusual to see shippers from the top stables based at Gulfstream.

“Those guys ship in here all the time,” Bennett said. “You have to have a nice horse who can compete with them. It was a great thrill to do that, to beat those guys. The last time it happened for me was quite a few years ago, in 2002, in the Super S. Mark Casse had a horse named Exciting Story, who had just won the Met Mile. We beat him and set a track record. That was another great thrill.”

On paper, Dreaming of Snow didn’t appear to have much of a chance. She had never run beyond seven furlongs or around two turns and she was coming off what looked like a lackluster effort in the Gasparilla. In Wonder Wheel and Julie Shining, she would be facing two of the best 3-year-old fillies in training. But Bennett was convinced she could win this race.

“When we ran her in seven-eighths race [the Gasparilla], she sat back and we tried to make a run with her,” he said. “The track here, they had a lot of rain and they hadn’t bladed it for a while. The track got biased favoring the outside. The inside was extremely deep for a while and that’s where she was in that race. Anybody who was down on the inside couldn’t finish. She ran an even race last time. But we have been high on this filly from the start and always thought she’d be a nice horse. I thought she had a shot [in the Suncoast].”

Dreaming of Snow was purchased for $60,000 at the 2022 OBS March sale. It was more than Bennett usually pays.

“I go to the sale and buy these horses for $17,500, for $25,000,” he said. “We paid $60,000 for this one. I like going to the June sale in Ocala. It seems like you get more value there and don’t have to overpay for them. If they run well and get a big number, usually I’ll sell them.”

Some, no doubt, will consider the Suncoast result to be a fluke. Bennett doesn’t see it that way. He believes that Dreaming of Snow is a legitimate contender for the GI Kentucky Oaks and is looking to run her next in the GIII Fantasy S. at Oaklawn Apr. 1.

“When she turned for home, she drew off a bit,” he said. “She’s a fighter and she wouldn’t let them pass her. Wonder Wheel was the class of the race and had all the hype. [Casse] had been preparing for this race for a while. He said she got tired, but the jockey was whipping on her well before the wire. You can’t take anything away from our horse. She ran a monster race and she wasn’t tired. In the winner’s circle, she wouldn’t have blown out a match.”

Asmussen Vs. Suarez

Steve Asmussen was bearing down on the 10,000-win milestone last week. Entering Sunday’s races, he had 9,996 career wins, a remarkable total and one that will surely keep growing for many years to come as Asmussen is just 57. But he still has a way to go before he can be crowned as the winningest trainer in the history of the sport.

That title still belongs to Peruvian trainer Juan Suarez. As of Saturday, Suarez had 10,328 wins. However, Asmussen is gaining on him. Since Aug. 8, 2021, when Asmussen moved past Dale Baird to become the winningest trainer in the history of North American racing, Asmussen has had 440 winners while Suarez has had 332. While Asmussen is always active at several tracks in the U.S., Suarez’s opportunities are limited since there is only one track in Peru, Hipodromo de Monterrico.

A Slow Race Or Not, Hit Show Impressed

The loaded Brad Cox-barn won another stakes race with a 3-year-old colt when Hit Show (Candy Rude {Arg}) captured Saturday’s GIII Withers S. at Aqueduct. But what should we make of the time? He covered the mile-and-an-eighth in 1:54.71 and the final three furlongs were run in a leisurely :41.36.

That’s not a reflection on Hit Show, but how slow the Aqueduct main track has been over the last few weeks. On the same card as the Withers, 3-year-old sprinters needed 1:13.09 to complete the Jimmy Winkfield S. On the day before the Withers, a mile-and-an-eighth race went in 1:59.04. Granted it was an $8,000 claiming race, but that very well could be the slowest time for the distance ever at a NYRA track.

Hit Show was given a 91 Beyer figure for his effort.

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