01/26/2002 12:00AM

Bennett flourishing in stakes

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Trainer Gerald Bennett, who qualifies as one of the best comeback stories in the business, isn't among the leaders in the standings here, but two of his three wins at this meeting have come in stakes races.

Bennett's stable went downhill when live racing came to an end in the Detroit area in 1998. He struggled for a few years, racing in other parts of the country, including Delaware and Illinois.

Bennett bounced back last season with a vengeance. With new owners joining old clients from the past, Bennett sent out 345 runners in 2001 and won 103 races. Many of those wins came at Great Lakes Downs, which has yet to measure up to Detroit Race Course in terms of the class of its horses. Still, winning at a 30 percent clip is quite a feat - no matter where it's done.

Bennett pulled off a stunner last Tuesday when he sent out Secret Romeo to defeat Tour of the Cat and Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile winner Exciting Story in the seven-furlong Super Stakes. Secret Romeo's record of nine wins from 12 starts in 2001 didn't impress many of the bettors as the Michigan-bred returned a whopping $40.20.

Bennett's other stakes winner of the meet came with Winnie's Pooh Bear, who won the Pelican Stakes in a mild upset ($14.20) on Dec. 29.

Hot, not hot

Keith Wirth, who got off to a slow start, has picked up steam, winning with 4 of his last 7 starters through Thursday. Myra Mora, who ranked among the leaders last season, is also doing well, winning three races from her last 10 starters. Heather Giglio, who is remembered for the fine job she did with Burning Roma last winter, has won with three of her last

4 starters, while the always dangerous Bruce Alexander has a pair of winners from as many starters.

On the other end of the spectrum Tom Agosti, who was winning at a 30-percent clip here last season, has only two winners so far, while the Randy Nunley stable, usually one of the steadiest of outfits, is still looking for its first win.