Ben’s Cat, recently retired fan favorite, dies at age 11
by Frank Vespe
Ben’s Cat, the 11-year-old gelding who won 26 stakes, helped catapult owner-breeder-trainer King Leatherbury into the Hall of Fame, and along the way captured the hearts of most of the racing world, was euthanized today because of complications that arose from July 6 colic surgery.
His death was reported in the The Blood-Horse.
Ben’s Cat, a Leatherbury homebred, won 32 of 63 career races, earning more than $2.6 million in the process. Despite not making his debut until age four, courtesy of a fractured pelvis, Ben’s Cat managed to win the Maryland-bred Mister Diz Stakes six times and the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, at Pimlico, five more.
It was in the latter race, in 2016, that he scored the final victory of his career. That day, under Trevor McCarthy, Ben’s Cat was buried inside, found racing room late, and shot through an opening to win by a neck.
“He’s an unbelievable horse, by far the best horse I’ve ever been on,” McCarthy said following that race. “I’ve just never seen a horse like that. You just have to give him something to run at. He was running up the fence, up the fence, and when I swung him out into the clear, I knew we were gone. I mean, just unbelievable. He knows where the wire is and says, ‘Let’s go Trevor, let’s go.’ He gave me his all and I wasn’t worried at all.”
But time catches up to the best of us, and this year Ben’s Cat could muster no better than a fifth-place finish in three tries. After he ran ninth in the Mister Diz June 24, Leatherbury announced his star’s retirement.
“End of an era,” Leatherbury told The Racing Biz in announcing that decision.
Ben’s Cat was a gelded son of Parker’s Storm Cat out of the Thirty Eight Paces mare Twofox. He was closely related to Ah Day, another Leatherbury homebred who also was a graded stakes winner and earned nearly $1 million. Ah Day’s dam, Endette, was a full sister to Twofox; and his sire, Malibu Moon, and Parker’s Storm Cat are half-brothers.
“Ah Day came first, then Ben,” Avon Thorpe, Leatherbury’s top assistant, said on the occasion of Leatherbury’s induction into the Hall of Fame. “Ah Day came first, and we were on the scene, and he was just winning and winning and winning. And then when he started tailing off, Ben’s Cat showed up right at the perfect time. And then he started winning.”
In fact, Leatherbury said Ben’s Cat was “absolutely” a major factor in his election, in 2015, to the national racing Hall of Fame.
“The excuse was years ago that Leatherbury wins a lot of races, but he doesn’t perform at the top levels,” the trainer, now 84, said. “That was true, but I had to deal with the horses that I had. But Ben’s Cat did perform at that level.”
Indeed. Ben’s Cat won the first eight races of his career, including the first of his three wins in the since-discontinued Maryland Million Turf Sprint. In his race following the Maryland Million score, he won the 9-furlong Find Handicap at Laurel Park, demonstrating the versatility that would also give him three wins in the Fabulous Strike, a late-fall dirt sprint at Penn National. He was a four-time Maryland-bred horse of the year.
Ben’s Cat’s graded stakes wins all came at Parx Racing, two in the Grade 3 Parx Dash and two in the Grade 3 Turf Monster. His first Turf Monster win, in 2011, was a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint — except that, since Ben’s Cat had not been nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, Leatherbury was forced to try to come up with $100,000 to supplement him.
When an effort to put a group together fell through, Ben’s Cat was on the outside looking in. On Breeders’ Cup day, Leatherbury watched as Regally Ready, Country Day, and Perfect Officer filled the top three spots in the Turf Sprint; Ben’s Cat had defeated all three in the Turf Monster.
Until this year Ben’s Cat had won at least two races and earned at least $149,000 for seven consecutive years. He was the fifth-leading earner among horses bred in 2006 — behind such familiar names as Blame, Flat Out, Rachel Alexandra, and Big Drama — and had the third-most wins of any horse foaled that year.
Following his retirement, Ben’s Cat was sent to Bayne and Chris Welker’s Spring Ridge Farm in Versailles, KY. But not long after his arrival, Ben’s Cat became ill with colic. He was sent to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to have an epiploic foramen entrapment repaired, but after early positive signs took a turn for the worse leading to today’s euthanization.
“I’m devastated over the news,” Leatherbury told The Blood-Horse. “It’s a tragic ending to a magnificent racehorse. I’m highly saddened. I had all the glory and all the excitement and thrills anything could ever give a man in Ben’s Cat.”
On social media, fans expressed similar sentiments.
On the “Maryland Horse Racing Industry” Facebook group, broken heart emojis were in plentiful supply, and dozens weighed in.
“So terribly sad,” wrote Jill R. Trivas.
“What a huge loss!! I loved watching him race. My heart is broken,” added Tammy Lafferty.
“He was Maryland’s horse,” jockey Trevor McCarthy said last month, and perhaps that accolade most of all is the way Ben’s Cat will be remembered.