Russell Road fave Benevengo owner hopes best to come
Names like Bill Mott, Steve Asmussen, and Peter Miller dot the list of entries in Friday’s $250,000 Russell Road Stakes at Charles Town Races, so you’d expect their runners will get plenty of attention from bettors. But if the morning line maker has it right, they may all be running for second behind the Jesse Cruz-trained Benevengo.
One person who thinks so is Benevengo’s principal owner, T. K. Kuegler, who manages partnerships under the Wasabi Ventures Stables moniker.
“Having watched this horse so many times in the mornings, having watched him run, he has not run his best race yet,” Kuegler said. “He has not even come close to running his best race.”
And when you add up a last-out Beyer of 103 that is the best of any horse in the race in nearly two years and what Kuegler portrays as a virtually unlimited ceiling, well, you end up with the chalk.
Benevengo enters the Russell Road, just his second start of the season, off a sharp score in a third-level Monmouth Park allowance. Under regular pilot Isaac Castillo, who has the return mount, Benevengo stalked the pace before sweeping by to win by five lengths in a six-furlong contest July 14.
“I was expecting him to run big,” Kuegler allowed. “There were a bunch of pure sprinters in that race, and you could make a case and say, he’s not really a six-furlong horse. But I expected him to win.”
Kuegler thinks his charge is better going a mile, and while the Russell Road is a seven-furlong contest, the track configuration makes it a two-turn event, which may play out closer to a typical mile. It’ll be his first time around a bullring, but Kuegler says that Cruz is confident.
“Even though Benny is a massive physical horse – I mean, he’s a huge horse – Jesse is of the firm belief that he actually is going to do well at Charles Town,” Kuegler said. “I mean, I’ve asked him 17 times, ‘Do you really believe that?’ He just believes that with the way the horse accelerates, the way he gobbles up ground, if gets out and breaks well, he’s gonna be in an OK spot.”
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Benevengo has won five of eight starts in his career, including a dominant stakes score in last fall’s Polynesian Stakes at Pimlico. He’s earned just shy of $215,000 and, were he to win Friday, would rake in the biggest payday of his career. All of which is pretty good for a horse Kuegler claimed – for $25,000 – out of his career debut last February at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We had been watching him for a while in the mornings,” Kuegler explained. “We had eyes on him probably a dozen times before his first start.”
It was an impressive one, a nine-length win, and four starts later, Kuegler took a big swing, running Benevengo in the Grade 1 Haskell. Off at 56-1, he set the pace before fading to fifth. In his next start, he romped home seven clear in the Polynesian for his first, and to date only, stakes win.
Benevengo was off from a November third-place finish in a Claiming Crown race in which he was the only sophomore in a field full of older horses before returning in the July allowance. Very minor foot issues delayed his return to action about a month, Kuegler said, but now, all systems are go.
Bred in Kentucky by Stanley Inman, Benevengo is a four-year-old Gormley colt out of the winning Medaglia d’Oro mare On High Alert.
Friday’s contest is no layup, however. The field includes local hopeful Coastal Mission (6-1), who’s eight-for-nine over the strip; defending champ Sir Alfred James (12-1); and Grade 2-placed Baby Yoda, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott; among others.
Still Kuegler is confident, while knowing that the old proverb – Man plans, and God laughs – is as true in horse racing as it is anywhere.
“I’m telling you right now, there’s no chance he’s even come close to his best race,” the owner reiterated. “But now you’ve got to go do it. Now you’ve got to run the race.”