By this time next week the following could be said about Tom Benson:
• He has owned a team that won the Superbowl.
• He has owned a team that made the NBA playoffs.
• He has owned two horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby.
That’s not bad for a man who made his fortune from the ground up in the automobile business and who, as he tells it, once answered what would be a life changing phone call from then governor Edwin Edwards. John Mecom, the original owner of the Saints, wanted to sell the team and there was a possibility that the best buyer might be a group from Jacksonville that wanted to move the franchise. Edwards invited Benson to a meeting with some potential investors who would keep the team in New Orleans. As it turns out, Benson recalls, he was the only potential investor there.
Years later, Benson, who was not happy when an NBA franchise landed in the city, answered a call from the NBA's Commissioner David Stern and wound up owning the team.
As for the horses, Benson’s late son, Robert, had been in the racing business. Wife Gale, who is a horse racing enthusiast, reawakened Tom’s involvement with the thoroughbreds.
Of all his sports ventures, GMB – the Benson’s horse racing corporation (the initials stand for Gayle Marie Benson) – having been founded in 2014, is by far the quickest to make it to the equivalent of the championships.
For all of the suave investors and billionaire tycoons who own sports franchises, no other owner can claim so much success in so many sports.
Also, no person has ever experienced what Benson will next Saturday when he will be rooting for his two horses, both named afar him – Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom.
All has not been sweetness in Benson’s personal run for the roses—there have been many thorns along the way including rebuilding the Saints after both Katrina and Mike Ditka and rebranding the basketball team. The current legal dispute with his family must be hurtful, especially as those who he made rich questioned his ability.
In sports, as well as life, there will always be bumps around the track. This week, however, belongs, unfettered and unchallenged, to Tom Benson. Neither of his horses is a favorite but Benson has faced long odds before. The horses will be approaching the starting gate, and one thing is for sure—Tom’s ready.
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BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.