04/01/2011 1:14PM

Woodbine veteran Benson eager for life after training


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – It’s been more than 30 years since trainer Mac Benson first made his presence felt here, when he worked as a private trainer for the famed Windfields Farm and won the Queen’s Plate with Regal Embrace in 1978.

While he has managed a slew of champions and stakes winners in the years since, Benson headed south this winter without his usual plans to train at Payson Park, and he will be present here at Woodbine Racetrack only on rare occasions this season.

“I’m 80 years old,” said Benson, from his home in Palm City, Fla., not far from his former winter headquarters. “Unless somebody would come along with some kind of a tremendous offer, I won’t be training anymore.

“I just think it’s time that I didn’t have to worry so much and get a little more enjoyment out of life,” he said. “I want to keep my hand in, but I don’t want that weekly 24-hour-a-day, 365 days a year.”

Benson said he can envision himself in a consulting role and already has had an informal experience in that vein.

“A certain party needed a bit of help and advice, and I gave it to her,” Benson said. “I’d like to do a little bit of consulting. When sales time comes around and somebody wants to buy some yearlings, I might be available to help out.”

In the meantime, Benson’s name will not be disappearing from sight. He probably will be listed as the owner for Magical View, a 3-year-old colt who will be trained by Benson’s wife and former assistant, Barb Przedryzmirska, who plans to take out her trainer’s license when she returns to Woodbine.

“I’ll go out occasionally to give her a hand,” said Benson, who considers his house in nearby Kleinburg to be his principal residence. “Canada, as far is I’m concerned, is my home now. I’m not about to stay down here year-round.”

Benson, who was born in Wilmington, Del., has been training since 1958 and has sent out more than 100 stakes winners. By the time he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1992, he had added a second Queen’s Plate, with La Lorgnette, Canada’s champion 3-year-old filly in 1985.

Other Canadian champions trained by Benson included Choral Group, Bounding Away, Legarto, Deputy Jane West, and Santa Amelia. In subsequent years Benson has added to that portfolio with Sovereign Award winners Inish Glora, the champion turf female in 2003 and 2004, and Arravale, champion turf female and Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2006. Both were owned by Bob Costigan.

Most recently, Benson had success with stakes winners Ice Bear, Sugar Bay, and Sugar Again for owner/breeder George Strawbridge Jr.

Busier season ahead for Costigan

The Benson, Costigan, and Strawbridge connection has been carried on by Carolyn Costigan, who began training for her parents, Bob and Nora, in 2009 and will be in charge of Strawbridge’s Woodbine-based runners this season.

“I’m very excited about training for Mr. Strawbridge and my other new owners this year,” said Carolyn Costigan, 29.

Costigan has been assigned 18 stalls for the meeting after making do with six last season.

Strawbridge runners under Costigan’s care include the 4-year-old homebred males Spirit Flying, who concluded his 2010 campaign with a first-level allowance score, and Celestial Fire, a maiden.

“I’ll have a few 2-year-old Canadian-breds for him,” Costigan said. “There’ll be horses of all ages.”

Costigan became an instant hit when Roan Inish, owned and bred by Bob Costigan, was her first career starter and won Woodbine’s $250,000 Princess Elizabeth Stakes. Last year, Roan Inish won the Woodbine Oaks and finished third in the Queen’s Plate. The filly spent the winter at Palm Meadows under Costigan’s supervision.

“Palm Meadows was marvelous,” said Costigan, who checked back into Woodbine late Tuesday morning.

Roan Inish has not seen racing action since the July 4 Queen’s Plate and had an easy winter in Florida.

“We just took it handy with her,” Costigan said. “She had a nice, good break. There’s no pressure on her at the moment. There’s no schedule.”

In the meantime Costigan has high hopes for Lisvernane, a maiden 3-year-old filly who races for her parents. Lisvernane finished second in last year’s Princess Elizabeth and is nominated for the Woodbine Oaks.

Gone from the barn is Lassair, a 3-year-old full sister to Roan Inish who was sold privately over the winter and is in training here with Dave Cotey. Lassair will be making her season debut in a maiden race Sunday.

Costigan has another Roan Inish sibling in Ardara. A 2-year-old filly by Arch, Ardara spent the winter at Shawhan Place in Kentucky along with My Bonny Boy, a colt by Successful Appeal who was purchased for $39,000 at the local mixed sale here last fall and will compete for an Arravale Racing partnership.

Woodbine racing on television

Full-card Thoroughbred coverage on “Woodbine Racing Live” will return to The Score television network Sunday and continue on Sundays throughout the season except June 5, June 26, Aug. 7, Sept. 18, and Oct. 16.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation once again will be televising the Queen’s Plate on June 26 and has added Woodbine Oaks/Plate Trial coverage for the June 5 card. Both CBC shows are scheduled to air from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

The Breeders’ Stakes will be featured in a one-hour special on The Score beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 7.

The Score also will present two-hour specials on Woodbine Mile Day, Sept. 18, and Canadian International Day, Oct. 16, with both set to begin at 4 p.m.

ESPN had televised the Canadian International on Saturdays for the last two years but will not be back this season.