Regardless of the number he sees displayed beside his horse’s number on the toteboard when the Queen’s Plate gates open, 23-year-old trainer Cole Bennett will be smiling.
It’s a day he’s dreamed of the moment he watched jockey Patrick Husbands and super filly Lexie Lou win the 2014 Plate for owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse.
‘What if that were me one day?’ the then teenager from Oak Bluff (population 1,051), Manitoba, said to himself as he watched Lexie Lou surrounded by her elated connections in the Woodbine winner’s circle after the 155th edition of Canada’s most famous horse race.
That was one year before Bennett, raised on a 27-acre hobby farm, launched his own training career at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg.
Now, in his sixth year as a conditioner, and based at Woodbine, he doesn’t have to ask himself that question any longer.
Bennett, who at age of 14 bought a racehorse with his father, Glen, has his answer.
“I’m pretty excited to be in the Queen’s Plate. It’s always been a dream and now it’s turned into a reality.”
His hopes in the 161st edition of the “Gallop for the Guineas” are carried on the hooves of the aptly named Truebelieve, who sports a 2-1-0 record from five starts for owner Centennial Farms (Niagara) Inc.
The son of Nephrite (GB), bred by Laurel Byrne, delivered a 64-1 score (for different connections) in his debut last November at Woodbine, crossing the wire a 1 ½-length winner at five furlongs over the Tapeta.
Truebelieve earned his second career win two starts ago when the colt rallied for a half-length victory at six furlongs over the Woodbine main track.
Bennett believes the bay, second in the Kingarvie Stakes last December, will be up for the challenge when he contests one of horse racing’s most iconic events.
The same can also be said of the conditioner.
Launching his training career in 2015 at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Bennett has already made a name for himself in racing circles.
Confidence in his abilities is complemented by an open mind and an unwavering commitment to self-improvement.
These days, the man who won a career-best 15 races four years ago is taking a measured approach in the lead-up to Saturday’s $1 million classic.
He knows the butterflies will come sooner rather than later.
Even so, Bennett, who has a pair of added-money wins to date, isn’t the type to be rattled.
For the past six years, the Plate has been a pursuit, albeit a back-of-mind hope, for him. Whether that dream would ever come to fruition felt like a 99-1 longshot at times.
Last winter, that all changed.
“I actually really liked Truebelieve last year when he first ran,” said Bennett, of the dazzling debut on November 2 at Woodbine. “The person who had him before us, I know he was trying to sell him. I had a couple of clients that I was trying to get to buy him. But we could just never get the deal done.
“I started talking to Dominic (DiLalla, of Centennial Farms), and he had purchased the horse in January. There were no definite plans for me training the horse at that point, but I knew I liked the horse, so I mentioned to Dominic that if he was ever in a spot, and if he was trying to figure out what he was going to do with horse, I really like him and I’d love to train him. It turned out that I got to train all the Centennial horses starting this March.”
Bennett has no shortage of praise for Truebelieve.
“He’s a horse that you just know he’s good. He’s smart. He’s very much a horse that likes his routine. He liked being at the racetrack – he’s all racehorse. But everything has to go his way in order to keep him happy. He’s a serious horse. He looks the part, he’s really well built, he has a great body, and he just has a great attitude about everything.”
Whether it all adds up to a Plate shocker like the 82-1 jaw-dropper T J’s Lucky Moon and jockey Steven Bahen delivered in the 2002 running remains to be seen.
For the man who mapped out Truebelieve’s date in the big dance, all of it is, quite literally, a dream come true.
“As a kid, I was a big Patrick Husbands fan and I remember that Plate in 2014 as if it were yesterday. That was the one that really stuck out for me. A filly winning it, I admired Mark Casse – it’s one that I’ll always remember.”
One that will now slot into the runner-up spot on Bennett’s list of most memorable Queen’s Plates.
“I think… it’s not proof to other people, but proof to myself that I can do this. I started training when I was really young. There was doubt from a lot of other people, but also from myself, in that you can make a living being a trainer and get to bigger places and run in bigger races. It was almost a pipe dream at one point.”
Two days ahead of the Queen’s Plate post position draw and five days before the biggest day of his career, odds are Bennett will soon envision another dream.
“To be in this race, it really is a dream come true. To win it, that would be the ultimate.”