From a Maryland Jockey Club release
Ben’s Cat, a multiple graded stakes winner and earner of more than $2.3 million in purses, is entered to make his 9-year-old debut Friday against eight rivals in a five-furlong turf sprint at Pimlico Race Course.
Bred, owned and trained by legendary Mid-Atlantic horseman King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat drew post 5 for the open $55,000 allowance that features three other Maryland-breds. He will carry regular rider Julien Pimentel and 120 pounds, two fewer than topweight Knockitdownhard.
Friday’s race comes nine years to the day that Ben’s Cat, a gelded son of Parker’s Storm Cat, was foaled. He has gone on to win 28 of 45 lifetime starts, 23 stakes and four Grade 3 stakes, most recently the Parx Dash Handicap last July.
“He’s such a popular horse. Everybody knows him,” said Leatherbury, who celebrated his 82nd birthday March 26. “Everybody asks me about him everywhere I go. ‘Is Ben’s Cat coming back?’ ‘When is Ben’s Cat coming back?’ So, here he is and we’ll see what this race looks like. I’m looking forward to getting him going again.”
Ben’s Cat earned highest honors in the final Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred/The Racing Biz Top Midlantic-bred Poll of 2014, the first year such a poll had been conducted. Because the Top Midlantic-bred Poll is restricted to horses that have run during the calendar year, Ben’s Cat was not named to the inaugural poll of 2015, which was released last week.
Subsequently, in February, Ben’s Cat was named 2014 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, also taking home titles as top older male, sprinter and turf horse. In all, he has earned 13 state-bred divisional championships in addition to Horse of the Year.
Following his annual winter vacation, Ben’s Cat has had four works at Laurel Park since March 17 for his return. In his most recent breeze, he went five furlongs in 1:03 on April 2.
“He’s worked four times for me here at Laurel and he’s probably one work away from where I really would like him,” Leatherbury said. “But he’ll be fine.”
Ben’s Cat has run in 23 consecutive stakes since finishing sixth in an optional claiming allowance on April 21, 2012 at Pimlico. He has opened each of his previous three campaigns in the Mister Diz Stakes, a race he has won five straight years. It has been moved to be part of Laurel’s first summer meet since 2010.
“That was the perfect return race because it was for Maryland-breds, which made it the easiest of all the races he had each year,” Leatherbury said. “It was a good one to come off his winter rest. Then they said they were going to have an allowance race for him and, sure enough, it filled. I don’t know if we’ll have turf or not because of the rain, but it won’t matter to him.”
Following Fridays’ race, Leatherbury said Ben’s Cat will be pointed again to the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, scheduled for five furlongs on the grass May 15, Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico. Ben’s Cat has won the McKay in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
“That’s been a good spot for him each year,” said Leatherbury, who ranks fourth all-time with 6,454 victories.
The return of Ben’s Cat could be the start of a big weekend for Leatherbury, a finalist for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The Class of 2015 will be announced on Monday, April 20.
“Oh, that’s right. And I’m on a roll right now, too,” said Leatherbury, who’s won eight of 32 starts this year and has placed first, second or third in 19 of those races. “We’ve been clicking. I appreciate all the help and support I’ve had from the people that know me.”