Popular Maryland-bred multi-millionaire Ben’s Cat will have to end one streak to continue another as the 11-year-old gelding seeks his fifth straight victory in Friday’s $ 100,000 Maker’s Mark Jim McKay Turf Sprint at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 12th running of Jim McKay for 3-year-olds and up at five furlongs on the grass is one of seven stakes, four graded, worth $ 1.15 million in purses on a 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program that includes the $ 100,000 Hilltop, also on turf, and $ 100,000 Skipat at six furlongs on dirt, both for females 3 and up.
Black-Eyed Susan Day also marks the return the Ultimate Girls Day Out, an entire afternoon dedicated to the spirit and strength of women. First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Bred, owned and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat has lost a career-high six straight races dating back to his neck triumph in last year’s Jim McKay, a race he has won five of the last six years. Previously, he had never lost more than three consecutive starts.
The storied career of Ben’s Cat includes 32 wins from 61 starts and 26 stakes victories, four of them in Grade 3 company, with a lifetime bankroll topping $ 2.6 million. Fifteen wins and more than $ 1.5 million have come at the McKay distance on a Pimlico course where he has won seven of 10 career starts.
“He’s a racehorse. He’s sound. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t run, unless he’s just getting beaten too badly,” Laurel Park-based Leatherbury said. “How can I pass up a race that he’s won five out of six times? You have to run just because he belongs in the race. It’d be a very pleasant surprise if he won it, but you never can tell.”
Ben’s Cat returned from his annual winter vacation to run fifth, beaten less than a length, in an open 5 ½-furlong allowance on Laurel’s world-class turf course April 16. He drew the rail and found himself in tight quarters until deep stretch, and was unable to utilize his late kick.
“He came out of the last race good. I wasn’t satisfied with the race because the one post hurt us. We couldn’t get out to make a move. He had to sit there so long and were able to make a move at the end, but it was too late,” Leatherbury said. “It wasn’t the horses that I was worried about as much as the trip. We should have beat those kind of horses, so I was disappointed we didn’t. Now we’ll go on to the race. It’ll be very difficult because he’s not supposed to win this all the time.”
Jockey Trevor McCarthy, who took over as Ben’s Cat’s regular rider last year and won his 1,000th career race May 13 at Monmouth Park, will be aboard from Post 5 at 118 pounds.
Ben’s Cat will have to contend with an overflow field of 16 entered including South Florida-based stakes-winning speedball Pay Any Price, trained by Ralph Ziadie. He will run in the name of Tampa-based trainer Gerald Bennett, in town to run R Angel Katelyn in the $ 150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) Friday.
Claimed for $ 25,000 last summer, Pay Any Price has won three of four starts this year, all in front-running fashion at Gulfstream Park. The 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding upset six-time stakes winner and two-time defending champion Power Alert and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Mongolian Saturday in the Silks Run March 11, rolling to a 3 ¼-length victory in a track-record 53.61 seconds. He returned to take a starter optional claimer by 1 ¾ lengths April 14 last time out.
“I thought it was a pretty good race that he ran [in the Silks Run]. I didn’t expect him to set the track record but I wasn’t surprised with the way he ran. I was expecting him to run a good race,” Ziadie said. “We’re hoping to win, let’s put it that way. He’s been doing pretty good. A big field shouldn’t affect him too much, hopefully. He’s pretty quick.”
Edgard Zayas ships in from Florida to ride Pay Any Price from Post 4 at 118 pounds.
Amelia’s Wild Ride, a Grade 3 winner in 2015 that has gone unraced in 14 months; stakes winners Take Cover and Richard’s Boy; Alpha Slew, Grandiflora, Grand Candy, Uncle Youdge, Triple Burner, Made Bail, Black Jet, M C Squared, Platinum Prince, Tale of E Dubai and Cyclogenesis are also entered. Tale of E Dubai and Cyclogenesis need late defections to draw into the field.
Live Oak Plantation’s Victory to Victory, upset winner of the Natalma (G1) last fall at Woodbine in what would turn out to be her final race of 2016, goes after her third straight triumph in the $ 100,000 Hilltop.
Each of Victory to Victory’s last two wins have come at the Hilltop’s one-mile distance. Trained by nine-time Sovereign Award winner Mark Casse, Victory to Victory was a good-looking gate-to-wire winner of a Keeneland allowance to open her 3-year-old campaign April 23.
The race was the first for Victory to Victory since the Natalma, after which she had to be scratched from a planned start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with a hoof abscess.
“We were really impressed with her allowance race at Keeneland,” said Casse’s son and top assistant Norman. “We knew she’d run well, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. And she’s trained great since then. We’re really excited to get her back in stakes company and think she’s really primed to have a big year.”
Among her challengers are a pair of horses from Glyndon, Md.-based Sagamore Racing, Chubby Star and Follow No One. Off the board in a pair of stakes tries last fall, Chubby Star has a third, a second and a half-length entry-level allowance win April 7 at Keeneland in three starts this year.
Follow No One is coming off a runner-up finish in a Gulfstream Park allowance March 12, her first try against winners following a 1 ¾-length maiden claiming win Feb. 1 at the South Florida track, which came at the Hilltop’s one mile.
The Hilltop attracted a field of 13 including Dance Queen, unbeaten in two career starts; stakes winner Compelled, coming off back-to-back Grade 3 placings; stakes winners Dynatail and Happy Mesa; Romantic Music, stakes-placed My Sweet Stella from six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas, Corporate Queen, Priss, Grade 3-placed Sweeping Paddy, and maiden winner Mercy Ann.
One day before he saddles Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming in the 142nd Preakness Stakes (G1), trainer Todd Pletcher cuts Repole Stable’s Clipthecouponannie back to her favorite distance in the $ 100,000 Skipat.
The 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo is undefeated in three tries at six furlongs, winning the Franklin Square against fellow New York-breds last February at Aqueduct. She saw her overall win streak end at four with her first career loss in the seven-furlong Distaff Handicap (G3) April 9, just her second start in 14 months.
“I thought she ran well. It was her first time in open company stakes. I thought she ran hard,” Pletcher said. “She might be a little better suited for this distance. Essentially she’s run well every time and I thought she did last time, as well, despite not winning. Six furlongs seems to be her forte.”
Multiple stakes winner Lovable Lady, based at Pimlico with trainer Mary Eppler, has never been worse than third in 10 lifetime tries at six furlongs, winning four times, three of them in Laurel stakes including one turf. She won her last race on her home track, a third-level optional claimer also at three-quarters of a mile.
Completing the field are Absatootly, upset winner of the Primonetta April 22 at Laurel; multiple stakes winner Sweet On Smokey, fourth in the Primonetta; Grade 3-placed Stormy Sky; multiple stakes-placed Summer Reading, Chanteline and Disco Chick; and Pleasant Tales.
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