From a Maryland Jockey Club release
King Leatherbury’s Ben’s Cat was entered Wednesday to compete on Jim McKay Maryland Million Day for the sixth consecutive year, but Maryland’s living legend is slated to experience a first in Saturday’s nine-race $1 million annual event at Laurel Park.
After running over the Laurel turf course in his first five starts in the program reserved for nominated horses sired by accredited Maryland stallions, Ben’s Cat is scheduled to take to Laurel’s main track to run in Saturday’s $100,000 Sprint. Running on dirt, however, will hardly be foreign territory for the venerable 9-year-old gelding.
“I elected to go there because the last two years I got beat right in the last 60 or 50 yards or whatever it was, so I didn’t want to do that again,” said Leatherbury, who is tied with Dale Capuano atop the Maryland Million trainer standings with 10 victories. “I’m figuring maybe the turf might be a little soft, maybe a little tiring, so that was against him. So I’ll take my shot on the dirt.”
Although he’s produced so many memorable moments on turf, the venerable 9-year-old gelding has also shown himself to be an accomplished sprinter on dirt.
A two-time winner over the Laurel main track early in his career, Ben’s Cat’s most recent start on dirt came in the six-furlong Fabulous Strike Stakes at Penn National last November. He closed from off the pace to win by 3 ¼ lengths. The son of Parker’s Storm Cat also won the Fabulous Strike in 2013 and 2012.
“If he runs like that, then there’s no question (he’ll be tough to beat),” Leatherbury said. “But I don’t expect that, because he hasn’t duplicated that this year yet. But, I don’t think the opposition is too bad. I’m giving a little weight to some up and coming horses, so that might upset me.”
Ben’s Cat has raced six times this year, winning two stakes, including his unprecedented sixth-consecutive success in the Mister Diz Stakes, which was followed with a fifth-place finish in the Turf Monster at Parx last time out.
Ben’s Cat, who has won 30 races (25 stakes) and nearly $2.5 million in purses during his 51-race career thus far, won the Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap three years in a row before the 5 ½-furlong turf race was dropped from the program. In 2013, he was the runner-up in the mile Maryland Million Turf, in which finished a neck behind Roadhog. Last year, he was caught late while finishing second behind Talk Show Man in the Turf.
Bred, owned and trained by Leatherbury, a 2015 inductee into the Thoroughbred Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Ben’s Cat won his first start at Laurel Aug. 7, 2010 at seven furlongs on the main track. Later that year, he captured a mile allowance race over Laurel’s dirt surface.
Jockey Julian Pimentel, who has ridden the winners of nine Maryland Million races, has the return mount aboard Ben’s Cat, the 122-pound highweight.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Leatherbury, whose star is assigned to carry between 5 and 14 pounds more than his seven rivals. “I’m not real optimistic, but I’d like to be because I haven’t won a Maryland Million race in many years.”
TomRus LLC’s D C Dancer was entered to defend the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap title he won by 1¼ lengths last year. The 5-year-old gelded son of Not For Love is winless in seven starts since that victory, including a second-place finish in an optional claiming allowance at Delaware Park.
Deborah Greene and Fred Greene Jr.’s Coach Fridge enters the Sprint off a second-place finish in the six-furlong New Castle Stakes at Delaware Park.
Trainer Robin Graham and M. E. Jones’ Jacks in the Deck enters the Sprint off a pair of off-the-board finishes in turf stakes, but recorded a sprint victory over the Laurel main track in June.
D Hatman Thoroughbreds and Kingdom Bloodstock’s Regal Soldier has been cross entered in the Sprint and Classic. It’s a Bang, Shirakuma and Tricky Lion round out the field.