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Saint's Owner Benson Has Two Derby Chances

New Orleans Saints Owner Tom BensonExpect some "Who Dat" chants from the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) crowd May 7 at Churchill Downs as supporters of Gayle and Tom Benson's Mo Tom and Tom's Ready try to bring some Mardi Gras to Louisville's biggest party.

The fun cheer of Saints fans mocks the experts who pick against their beloved NFL team, which is owned by the Bensons. The Bensons also own the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans and have entered the horse racing game in a big way.

"Usually we have basketball season, which kind of leads into football season; but now we have a racing season," Gayle Benson said earlier this year. "It breaks up the (monotony) a little. It's really great to have all these sports in New Orleans. We go to the Fair Grounds (Race Course & Slots) on a regular basis and we just love the energy. There's so much excitement with betting and so much going on. We love it there."

The Bensons also live up to the New Orleans' reputation for fun and partying. They'd love to add a Derby victory party to their recent Super Bowl celebration of the Saints championship in 2010. After the Derby draw on May 4, the Bensons were surrounded by reporters including several television crews from New Orleans.

"I'd want to know where we're going afterward!," Tom Benson said when asked what it would be like to win the Derby. "This is like being at the Super Bowl with all of these cameras around. It's very exciting."

After watching as Mo Tom was assigned post four and Tom's Ready drew post 12, Gayle Benson agreed.

"I'm very excited; this is awesome," Gayle Benson said. "It really is."

Tom Benson had raced horses on a smaller level in the 1970s. In recent years he and Gayle had enjoyed trips to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and the decided to take the horse racing plunge, with an aim toward racing's biggest races. 

According to Greg Bensel, who heads communications for the Saints and Pelicans and has provided advice on the racing operation, the Bensons committed $500,000 each to Fair Grounds trainers Al Stall Jr., Tom Amoss, and Dallas Stewart to find top horses. From that investment, Amoss landed Mo Tom for $150,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September sale from the Warrendale Sales consignment and Stewart purchased Tom's Ready from the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale from the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment.

Mo Tom, by leading freshman sire Uncle Mo  , won the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds before finishing third in the Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) and fourth in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (gr. II), after troubled trips in both.

Tom's Ready, by More Than Ready  , placed second in both the Lecomte and Louisiana Derby. Stewart, who will be sending out a Derby horse for the fifth time and finished second in the classic in 2013 with Golden Soul and 2014 with Commanding Curve, said he has enjoyed training for the Bensons.

MITCHELL: Stewart Not Making Changes for Derby

"Greg Bensel contacted me and said they wanted me to be part of their group. He said they wanted to try to win the Derby. I said, 'That's going to take some money.' So they bumped it up from the original number of what they wanted to spend," Stewart said. "They gave each of us $500,000 and gave us free rein to go out and buy the horses we wanted."

Stewart noted that while the Bensons are having a lot of fun, they want to add some top racing trophies next to their Lombardi Trophy.

"They're coming up here and they want to win this thing, believe me," said Stewart. "They want to take the trophy back to New Orleans. They're happy to be here and they understand it's a hard thing to get one horse in the Derby and they have two—I know they feel blessed—but they want to win. They're in the sports franchise business. They're competitive people."

Amoss, spotted wearing a New Orleans Saints shirt the morning of May 3 at Churchill, has known Tom Benson for years. He'll be starting a horse in the Derby for the fifth time and will try to improve on a top placing of fifth by Mylute in 2013.

"My brother (John Amoss) is the team doctor for the New Orleans Saints," Amoss said. "(Tom Benson) has come up to the Derby on a few occasions as a fan and I've been the guy that's been honored to show him around. I've known Mr. Benson for a while."

While the Bensons could have had their pick of any trainers in the country, they wanted to select conditioners who worked at the New Orleans meet each winter. It's consistent with their sporting commitments to the Crescent City.

"It was very important to me and very important to Mrs. Benson," Tom Benson said, before Gayle added that racing is, "part of Louisiana. It's part of New Orleans and part of Louisiana."

Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, who guided the team to the Super Bowl title, made the trip to Louisville in a group of about 50 people with ties to the Saints or Pelicans. Tom Benson said they initially were going to invite about 20 people.

"People are so excited about this. I think I'm the calmest one," Tom Benson said. "We started by inviting a few people. We'd get to the end of the list and think, 'No, we can't scratch that person.' So that's how we ended up with another 30 people."

After the draw, Mo Tom was assigned morning-line odds of 20-1 and Tom's Ready was listed at 30-1. While the odds may be long, New Orleans sports fans embrace the role of underdog.

"Who dat, who dat, who dat say gonna beat dem Toms?"

Tom Benson knows that the improbable can happen in sports, like when the Saints, a franchise long-known for losing, turned things around with their Super Bowl victory.

 

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