Leatherbury: Ben’s Cat’s “name will be around a long time”
By Frank Vespe
Come Saturday morning, King Leatherbury figures to be in a reflective mood. Maybe even – if you can believe it – a little bit somber.
“I’ll get a little emotional, I imagine,” the trainer, 84, said by phone this week.
And why not?
On Saturday, the Maryland Jockey Club will host a celebration of the great Ben’s Cat, the wildly popular gelding that Leatherbury bred, owned, and trained to 32 victories and more than $2.6 million in career earnings.
Yet it will be a celebration tinged with sadness. Ben’s Cat, retired earlier this year at age 11, died unexpectedly shortly after his retirement, felled by complications from colic surgery.
“People that have come up to me to tell me how much the horse meant to them have really made me feel very sentimental,” Leatherbury said. “You don’t realize how many people get attached to a horse like that.”
The day begins early, at 10:30 a.m., when Ben’s Cat’s ashes will be interred near the Laurel Park paddock – a paddock he entered prior to 23 of 63 career races. On a dozen of those occasions, he found his way to the winner’s circle.
Later, Leatherbury will join the five jockeys who piloted Ben’s Cat to victory – Julian Pimentel, Jeremy Rose, Trevor McCarthy, Rosemary Homeister Jr., and Horacio Karamanos – for an autograph session for an hour in the clubhouse.
If Leatherbury catches a break, and races come off the turf, he’ll have to scoot out of the autograph session to saddle a horse. Classic Wildcat – at age 11, another remarkable old-timer – is a main-track-only entrant in the day’s fourth race. The old-timer has won 25 of his 91 career starts, two of those victories coming this year.
And if not? There’ll always be the special “Ben’s Crush” cocktail, whatever that is. Leatherbury says that, pending taste test approval, he might help himself to “more than one” of those.
There will also be, for the fans, bobbleheads and posters, as well as big racing card with a half-dozen stakes on it. It’s the kind of card that Ben’s Cat always seemed to race on.
“He goes down as something special,” Leatherbury pointed out. “His name will be around for a long time.”