01/18/2010 12:00AM

Two trainers going head to head

Email

OLDSMAR, Fla. - Horses trained by Kathleen O'Connell and Dale Bennett came down the stretch head and head in Saturday's fifth race, and fans should expect to see that scenario often this meeting. The two trainers, who got their early education in the rough-and-tumble world of Detroit racing, figure to be right in the thick of things in the battle for leading trainer.

While Bennett's charge, Steps Silver Halo, won the decision over the O'Connell-trained Native Yell in that race, it's the O'Connell stable that is out in front in the trainer standings with 16 wins through Sunday's racing, while Bennett is second with 11 wins.

The quiet-spoken O'Connell, 58, is in the prime of her career. She has racked up thousands of miles making the trek across Alligator Alley between Miami and Tampa over the years, and last year she enjoyed her best season ever. O'Connell-trained runners won 104 races last year and earned $1.5 million in purses, and she capped off her season by winning the training title at the Tropical at Calder meeting, the first woman to accomplish such a feat in 39 years.

O'Connell said that one of her biggest challenges involves learning the personalities of her young horses and what they can handle in terms of training.

"Each horse is different, and you can't be pushing them like an older horse," she said. "You have to try and learn their individual personalities, theirs strengths and weaknesses, and go from there."

Bennett, 37, worked for his father, trainer Gerald Bennett, in Michigan for several years before striking out on his own in 1998. In the past several seasons, Bennett has increased his number of better-quality runners, and last season the outfit cracked the $1 million mark in purses earned. Last summer, the Bennett stable had a standout meeting at Arlington Park, winning 23 races from 82 starts for a 28 percent winning rate. Another who is a hands-on type, Bennett can usually be seen waiting with a water bucket and sponge after one of his runners wins a race, to give his runner a little sip of water and a cooling mini-wash before going into the winners' circle.

Uptowncharlybrown aimed at Davis

Uptowncharlybrown, who pushed his record to 2 for 2 with a six-length victory in the Pasco Stakes on Saturday, came out of his race in good order and will now be pointed for the Grade 3, $225,000 Sam Davis Stakes here on Feb. 13, according to his trainer, Alan Seewald.

"He ate up Saturday night and was doing well Sunday morning," Seewald said.

Jockey Daniel Centeno urged Uptowncharlybrown on for about a sixteenth of a mile after the finish, then allowed him to gallop out strongly, all of which was by design.

"I told Danny to keep him rolling a bit after the finish," the trainer said. "He's really a two-turn horse and we want to keep longer distances in mind whenever he runs. I caught him going the mile in 1:37 and change, which over that racetrack is a solid time."

Seewald admits to having had several offers to buy Uptowncharlybrown, but says right now he's not going anywhere.

"Yeah, the phone's been ringing, but the partners are pretty firm at this point that they want to go on and see if we don't have a horse that can be in the big picture," he said.

* Trainer Rick Slomkowski, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going. Slomkowski survived near-fatal injuries when he was struck by a car as a pedestrian in 2008. He returned to training and last season lost a prominent owner. Despite those setbacks, Slomkowski won races at 32 percent clip in 2009 and this season has sent out 2 winners from 7 starters while having just five stalls.