Ben’s Cat, in the midst of the first four-race losing streak of his storied career, is being pointed to a return trip to the Maryland Million Day program Oct. 22 at Laurel Park.
Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, who bred, owns and trains the popular 10-year-old gelding, said he expects to run Ben’s Cat for a second straight year in the $ 100,000 Maryland Million Sprint at six furlongs on the main track.
“We’re going to go to the Maryland Million. I want to support Maryland Million Day and I’ve got really no other place to run,” the 83-year-old Leatherbury said. “It’s not on the turf but at least it’s a little bit restricted.”
It will be the seventh straight year in the Maryland Million for Ben’s Cat, winner of the Turf Sprint from 2010-2012, and second in the one-mile Turf in 2013 and 2014 and last year’s Sprint. His three consecutive runner-up finishes have come by a less than a length combined.
Ben’s Cat has won 32 races, 28 in stakes, and more than $ 2.6 million in purse earnings over a 59-race career, with graded wins in the 2011 and 2012 Turf Monster (G3) and 2013 and 2014 Parx Dash (G3). He hasn’t started on dirt since he was seventh last November in the Fabulous Strike at Penn National, a race he won from 2012-2014.
“I’m just looking at the logical spots. I passed up the [Turf Monster] this year and it depends on how he runs in the Maryland Million whether I go back to Penn,” Leatherbury said. “That’s a race where he happened to run the best number he ever got in his career on Thanksgiving eve . You can’t forget those kind of things.”
A four-time Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, Ben’s Cat began 2016 with wins in an open allowance May 1 at Laurel and the Jim McKay Turf Sprint May 20 at historic Pimlico Race Course. Since then, he ran third in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, Parx Dash and Mister Diz before finishing fifth in the Laurel Dash Sept. 10.
“He came out of the last one fine but when you look at his record you’ve got to suspect that maybe it’s the beginning of the end, which is sad thing for me to say. He’s not coming up with his big finishes like he used to. He’s feeling good and he’s sound, just like me I guess,” Leatherbury said. “He’s right there and he’s in good spots, but when you ask him to run he just doesn’t have that kick like he’s had, which is a sad thing for an old man like me.”
Leatherbury said he will give Ben’s Cat his annual winter vacation before deciding whether to aim for a 2017 campaign.
“Whether it’s worth bringing him back is the thing. Do we bring him back as an 11-year-old? He’s always trained well and he’s always felt good so he can fool you from that. The exercise boy always says he’s as good as ever but then from the quarter pole home he’s not the same as ever,” he said. “So, we’ll see. There’s no reason not to run. If I can pick up a piece of it, that’d be something.”
Ben’s Cat went a mile in 1:50 Sept. 24 at Laurel in his first timed work since the Laurel Dash.
“I [did] a little bit with him, nothing serious,” Leatherbury said. “Generally I work them five to seven days before a race and prior to that usually a week before, so he’ll have two solid works before he runs again.”
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