Few trainers have ever made a more lasting impression in their first year of conditioning thoroughbreds in Canada than the affable veteran trainer from Wilmington, Del. Known simply as “Mac”, he arrived at Woodbine in 1978 to assume the job of Windfields Farm’s exclusive Ontario trainer and was an immediate success, winning the Queen’s Plate for owner E.P. Taylor with Regal Embrace, who upset the heavy favourite Overskate. Delighted with the unexpected victory for his owner, who hadn’t won the Plate since Northern Dancer’s year in 1964, Benson said “What can you say? Your first year here and you win the Plate.”
In 1985 Benson would spring another upset in the Plate, this time with the bay filly LaLorgnette, who defeated the odds-on favourite Imperial Choice and became, at that time, only the second filly to win both the Canadian Oaks and the Plate. Ironically, on both occasions Windfields got “stuck” with their Plate champions. Regal Embrace, who was offered at auction for $15,000 but got no takers, had numerous infirmities but as Mac put it, “he turned out to be a running machine.”La Lorgnette was catalogued for the yearling sales but developed colic days prior to the sale and was reluctantly withdrawn.
Benson was in his 49th year as a trainer in 2006 and enjoyed an epic season with a three-year-old filly – Arravale. After capturing the Del Mar Oaks (Gr.1), the Kentucky-bred filly owned by Robert Costigan, won the most important race in Canada for fillies, the E.P. Taylor Stakes (Gr.1) on the turf at Woodbine. The victory earned Arravale two Sovereign Awards – Canada’s Horse of the Year and Female Turf Horse. The two Sovereigns increased Benson’s total to ten of the coveted award.
Benson also guided the careers of Sovereign Award winners Choral Group, champion two-year-old filly; turf champion Bounding Away; Legarto, two-year-old filly in 1988; Deputy Jane West, a double Sovereign Award winner at two and three; Santa Amelia, leading older filly or mare; Inish Glora, back-to-back winner of turf filly or mare and of course La Lorgnette, champion three-year-old filly of 1985. Benson’s list of stakes winners in Ontario was lengthy and, besides the Sovereign champions included Silver Deputy, Bristol Pistol, Allende, Hagley’s Quest, Alexis, Hot Pepper Hill, Social Director, Heretic, Canadian Envoy, Tarage, Classic Result, Autumn Slew, Classic Threat, Nashinda, My Pal Lana, Mountain Orchid and Quiet Dare.
Born in 1930, Benson earned his trainer’s permit in 1958 and was initially employed by William DuPont’s Foxcatcher Farm. Until the mid 1970s he ran a public stable on the Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware circuit. However, Benson would be the first to admit that he was struggling in 1976 when Taylor’s chief executive, manager Joe Thomas, asked him if he was interested in taking some horses for Windfields. He could not get his response out quick enough. “Man, would I love to.”He wasn’t among the leading trainers but numerous associates of Windfields in Maryland recommended Benson to Thomas.
Prior to the 2008 season Benson had saddled 558 winners (ninety in stakes) in Canada since 1976. His main clients were George Strawbridge (Augustin Stable) and Costigan. “I’ve been successful up here and very lucky,” said Benson. “I’ve had eight champions and, hopefully, a few more years to go, too. I think it’s more and more important to promote racing, to be an asset to your profession.”