• Action Packed Weekend Awaits Team Benson
  • Unholy Alliance Takes Next Step Up in Letellier Memorial Stakes
  • Walsh’s Career Debut Winners Square Off, Seek Tougher Test in Letellier
  • Murphy Hopeful That Great Wide Open (Ire.) Can Continue Top Form

By Ryan Martin


If the G M B Racing horses perform up to expectations on Saturday and her New Orleans Saints clinch a first round bye in the playoffs with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Christmas will come a few days early for local icon Gayle Benson.

With the likely Tenacious Stakes favorite Tom’s d’Etat leading the way, the white and light blue halves and gold crown will be will berepresented by a handful of runners on Santa Super Saturday at Fair GroundsRace Course & Slots.

In French, the word d’etat (pronounced day-tah) means “to conquer” and that’s just what G M B Racing Manager Greg Bensel hopes that “Tom” and his G M B Racing stablemates do on Saturday.

“He’s obviously got the (Grade II $400,000) New Orleans Handicap on his radar,” Bensel said. “Ironically that could put him up against(graded stakes winner and stablemate) Lone Sailor in a potential showdown. He’s (Tom’s d’Etat) spent most of his career in rehab due to injuries. He’s fiveyears old and we don’t know how much time we have left with him so were takingour best shot.”

A son of Smart Strike, Tom’s d’Etat was highly regarded evenas a 4-year-old. So much so, that his connections considered facing him offagainst eventual Horse of Year Gun Runner in last year’s Grade I Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

“We were pointing to the Woodward last year against Gun Runner but he ended up getting hurt,” Bensel recalled. “I think where he was at that point last year, he would have at least given Gun Runner a little run for his money. He had come off back-to-back wins and we were real excited about it. The funny thing is that we beat our heads against the wall against Gun Runner with Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom.”

 The Tenacious Stakes will be a long overdue stakes debut for Tom’s d’Etat who has won five of his eight career starts, the last three by a combined 18½ lengths.

“There some nice ones in there (Tenacious) that were on the Derby trail so we’ll see where he is,” Bensel said. “(Trainer) Al (Stall, Jr.) has been cautious with him and deliberate with his training. He’s probably on the back end of his career so we’ll see what he does on Saturday.”

In addition to Tom’s d’Etat, G M B Racing will race a trio of well-bred 2-year-olds on the Saturday program including Twelfth Labour (Race 4), Locally Owned (Race 12) and Miltontown (Race 13).

A son of Quality Road out of the stakes winning Lemon Drop Kid broodmare Kitty Wine, Twelfth Labour will be making his third career start and will stretch out to two turns after a pair of starts around a one turn mile at Churchill Downs, the most recent of which was a late closing neck behind B P Rocket.  He is trained by Dallas Stewart and owned in partnership with West Point Thoroughbreds and Stone Farm.

“There was going to be only one long juvenile race and we were going to let Twelfth Labor have the first shot. But (Fair Grounds Director of Racing) Jason (Boulet) and the crew over there spilt the race and it turns out that both fields are tremendously tough,” Bensel said. “Al (Stall, Jr.), Dallas (Stewart) and I looked at the long juvenile race and we didn’t want to run against each other. Luckily that morning, the racing staff split the race when Al and called and told me, that was welcome news.”

Twelfth Labour was purchased for $360,000 at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale from Stone Farm’s consignment operation.

Locally Owned will look to overcome a case of seconditis in his maiden special weight start on Saturday. The Al Stall, Jr. trainee was runner-up in all three of his starts. Most recently, he finished five-length behind promising Mark Casse trainee War of Will.

“Second, second, second but he has done it with a lot of energy, desire and fight which is good to see,” Bensel said. “He has a good pedigree and he’s a big dude.”

Locally Owned was a quarter million dollar purchase from last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is by Distorted Humor out of the four-time graded stakes winning Pulpit broodmare Fiftyshadesofhay. She was consigned by Warrendale Sales.

In the penultimate race on Saturday, Miltontown will seek a maiden victory at second asking for G M B racing and Dallas Stewart. A close fifth last out against Sugar Bowl Stakes contender Uncapped, the son of Speightstown was an $85,000 purchase from last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the consignment barn of Lanes’ End.

“We like the horse,” Bensel said. “He’s going to go short and there are a lot of first timers in the race so it’s hard to determine what will happen. The goal is to stretch him out to see what he has.”

Miltontown is out of the Forest Camp broodmare Forest Legend whose dam is Grade II winner Silver Comic. He comes from the same family as graded stakes winner Silver Reunion as well as 1998 Louisiana Derby (then a Grade III) winner Comic Strip.

Looking ahead, G M B Racing will start two-time allowance winner Cathedral Reader in Santa Anita’s Grade I La Brea on December 26 and on the same day will debut 2-year-old Tom Management  at Fair Grounds.

“Saturday is going to be a great day at Fair Grounds so were excited about all horses,” Bensel said. “Then obviously we got the Steelers game so hopefully we can secure a first round bye. It’s big weekend overall. We’re having a lot of fun with everything.”


As the trainer of 2018 Grade I Kentucky Oaks winner and likely Eclipse Award champion Monomoy Girl, trainer Brad Cox knows a good filly when he sees one, and he surely likes what he’s seen from his undefeated Letellier Memorial contender Unholy Alliance so far.

A winner at first asking over a fast Churchill Downs track, defeating the likes of fellow Letellier aspirant Istan Council in the process, the 2-year-old daughter of First Samurai returned last month to win a first-level allowance over a sloppy surface, displaying a similar, late closing kick.

“She’s a filly that we’ve thought highly of from the start her career,” Cox said. “She doesn’t have a ton of speed away from the gate so (jockey Shaun Bridgmohan) just lets her find her way up the backside. It worked out first time and worked out second race as well. She is a very good work horse. She worked very well at Churchill and seems to transfer her good work down to the Fair Grounds. There’s a lot of speed in that race, so on paper she should get a good set up.”

Unholy Alliance was a $170,000 purchase from last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale where she was purchased by Hades Stable from consigner Cross Keys Stable. She is out of the two-time stakes placed Unbridled’s Song broodmare Canticle whose grand dam is four-time Grade I winner and Grade I producer Versailles Treaty. She was bred in Kentucky by Craig Drago.

Also undefeated in two starts is Letellier contender Bell’s the One, a Neil Pessin trainee who broke her maiden at 32-1 odds over the synthetic surface at Arlington International Racecourse and mimicked her victory with another one against winners at Keeneland last time out.

Although Pessin believes that his filly has some ability, he admitted that she possess some quirky antics.

“Ability wise I think she’s good at anything in the race or better,” Pessin said. “Building wise she’s a very nice filly but naturally, she’s a little quirky. You never know exactly what she’s

going to do at any time. So we have to watch her when we train her, watch her around the barn. She’s not bad to work around; you just have to be careful around her.”

Owned by Lothenbach Stables, the 2-year-old daughter of Majesticperfection defeated next out winners Twixt and Shot as well as fellow Letellier Stakes contestant Kajawa in her career debut.

“We always knew she could run, always should ability since we started breezing her it’s just a question of if her mind lets her run. So far she’s been professional but in the morning she’s quirky.”

Bell’s the One was purchased for $155,000 from last year’s Fasig-Tipton July Yearling Sale from consigner Brereton Jones. She is out of the Street Cry (Ire.) broodmare Street Mate who is a half-sibling to Grade II winner Tap Day. She comes from the same family as Grade I winner Dream Empress.   


Regardless of the circumstances or level of competition, winning with a 2-year-old at first asking is always rewarding. On Saturday, trainer Brendan’s Walsh will saddle a pair of debut winners in Saturday’s $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes. Where their careers take them next is up to them. 

Owned by Rags Racing Stable, Q Go Girl came from just off the pace over a fast main track at Churchill Downs last month for a $75,000 tag but had to put up a fight down the stretch to get the job done. She managed to keep runner-up What a Fox at bay and won by 1¼ lengths.

“She ran well,” Walsh said of the daughter of Quality Road. “We kind of put her in there to give her confidence and I thought it was an easier spot than a maiden special weight. She was showing us plenty at home. Thank God she came up with the goods.”

On the other hand, Stonestreet Stables’ Idle Hour made her career debut look much easier. In the Fair Grounds maiden special weight event over a fast main track, she broke on top and opened up at the top of the stretch under a hand ride by current leading rider James Graham. The daughter of Malibu Moon outran 10-1 her odds when gliding home by 4½ lengths.

“I thought she’d run well but she ran a little better than what I expected,” Walsh said. “She’s improved when we really turned the screw on her in her works. She got better and she seems to have improved again so we’ll see on Saturday how it goes.”

Q Go Girl was purchased for $75,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Mid Atlantic Two-Year-Olds In Training Sale in May where she was consigned by Hoppel’s Horse and Cattle Company. She is out of the unraced Giant’s Causeway broodmare Choo Choo Lady, whose dam was Grade I winner Flat Fleet Feet.

Idle Hour is out of Grade I winning Arkansas-bred broodmare Downthedustyroad and was purchased for $100,000 at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She was consigned by Eaton Sales.

Walsh is also represented in the Sugar Bowl Stakes by Lee and Cheryl Mauberret’s Uncapped, a homebred son of First Samurai who last out broke his maiden at second asking over a fast track at Churchill Downs in a race originally scheduled for the turf.

“I think he’s another one that keeps improving,” Walsh said. “We made a big improvement from his first run to when he broke his maiden. We were always going to put him on dirt anyway we were just experimenting on grass. He’s a brother to Wicked Lick and so we’ll put him back on one point. (Drawing the rail) is not ideal, but it is what it is. We’ll take our shot at it.”

Walsh gave a brief update on graded stakes placed Plus Que Parfait, who acquired four points on Churchill Downs’ Road To The Kentucky Derby when finishing second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club behind Signalman last out.

“He’s a really nice horse and we’ve always thought an awful lot of him,” Walsh said of the son of Point of Entry. “He’s improving and progressing which is great and we’ll just see. We’ve backed off him a bit since the last race. He’s been kept at Fair Grounds so he’s got an allowance option but we’ll look at races like the (Grade III $200,000) Lecomte (on January 19) and the (Grade II $400,000) Risen Star (on February 16). We’ll start him back him back working soon and let him tell us what’s next.”


A turnaround in form is always promising when a horse is looking for its first stakes win. That being said, trainer Conor Murphy has expressed some confidence in Great Wide Open (Ire.) in Saturday’s $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes.

Owned by M and J thoroughbreds in partnership with Riverside Bloodstock, the 6-year-old son of Starspangledbanner (Aus.) was a wire-to-wire winner last out over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

“I repeat of the last would be very nice,” Murphy said. “There are a couple of hotter horses coming in like (three-time stakes winner) Big Changes and (three-time graded stakes winner) Oscar Nominated. He’ll need to be on his game again on Saturday but he’s in good form. He’s really his best with a bit give in the ground.”

Great Wide Open appears to be an anything but lightly raced horse having made a total of 36 career starts, 11 of which took place this year. Despite having quite the seasoned campaign in 2018, he does not in any way appear to have digressed as his past three efforts were arguably his

best three races. Prior to his local allowance victory, hewas second in both the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs as well as the Grade IShadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. “Having finished second in those two races he got a lot ofconfidence in them,” Murphy said. “He’s always been aggressive horse trainingwise. This year I tried to space his races out but he’s been so aggressive inhis training. The big difference is that he’s learned to settle a lot bettergoing a two-turn mile. (Jockey) James Graham deserves a lot of credit for thatbecause she switches him off nicely. Between that and the soft turf, those seemto have been the reason for his improvement.”Great Wide Open seeks the seventh victory of his career andhas already banked $420,345.

Photo Courtesy of Coady Photography