The son of Parker’s Storm Cat became King Leatherbury’s first millionaire with a victory in the Turf Monster Handicap (G3) at Parx Racing in his last start. He has won 17-of-26 starts with earnings of $1,161,090.
“It is an incredible story because the kind of horses I breed are not high quality. His sire was an unknown with a $2,500 stud fee and the mare was a homebred,” said Leatherbury, who ranks third on the all-time win list with 6,349 career victories. “He’s a Cinderella type horse from that standpoint. Starting with serious problems, through that, even getting to the races and running as a claimer would have been a nice story. He’s maintained his class and he’s doing fine so there are no excuses except for the weight.”
Nine runners are entered to face Ben’s Cat, who will carry 128 pounds, 11 to 18 more than his rivals.
Those rivals include multiple graded stakes winner Heros Reward, who has earned $1,252,898 during his career, and Steady Warrior, who finished just a length behind Ben’s Cat in last year’s Turf Sprint and a neck behind him in the Mister Diz Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in April.
Julian Pimentel, who was Ben’s Cat’s regular rider in 2010 and regained the mount this summer, will be aboard.
“He just finds a way to win,” Pimentel said. “I think he’s as good as he was during his 4-year-old season. He has been really aggressive in his last three races and his mind isn’t running all over the place like in the past.”
Ben’s Cat is the prohibitive 3-5 morning line favorite.
THREE LOOKING FOR REPEAT PERFORMANCES
Ben’s Cat is one of three defending champions on Saturday’s 11-race card. The others are Eighttofastocatch, the 9-5 morning line choice in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic, and Sloane Ranger, who is the 5-2 program favorite in the $100,000 Sprint.
Sloane Ranger beat Regal Solo by a half-length in last year’s Sprint and both return in excellent form.
Sloane Ranger has finished in the money in six of seven starts this year, including a pair of stakes victories.
“He is just so consistent,” said trainer Marty Ciresa, who has three Maryland Million wins on his resume. “At 6-furlongs on a fast track he is always there. He has really matured this year and loves to run.”
Regal Solo (3-1) will be looking to make Jim McKay Maryland Million history when the son of Louis Quatorze shoots to become just the first horse to win three different races on Maryland’s Day at The Races. Regal Solo captured the 2007 Nursery while in Linda Albert’s barn. Two years ago he won the Maryland Million Classic by 1-¼ lengths for conditioner Damon Dilodovico and then finished second in last year’s Sprint off a one-year layoff because of foot problems.
Hall of Famer Safely Kept (Distaff-1989-90-91), Countus In (Ladies-1989-90-91), Mz. Zill Bear (Ladies-1993-94-95) and Docent (Sweepstakes-2001 & Classic-2002-03) are the only runners to win three times on Maryland Million day. Ben’s Cat has a chance at three consecutive wins in the Turf Sprint earlier on the card.
Sheldon Russell will ride Regal Solo, who has eight wins and 18 in the money finishes in 30 career races for earnings of $421,248 and who, prepped for the Maryland Million with an impressive allowance win here September 8.
“He ran in it lights out off a year layoff,” said Dilodovico, who has five career Maryland Million victories. “We were able to get some races into him early this year and he was sharp. I never had a rider come off him as confident as Sheldon was that day. The Sprint is always a solid race, always tough so we were thinking about the Classic but decided to back off his training a little and make sure we were able to make one of the races instead of missing the Maryland Million all together.”
The Sprint could feature up to seven other runners (two are cross-entered), including Action Andy (7-2), a stakes winner at four venues. However the son of Gators N Bears is 0-for-5 at Laurel Park. Trained by Carlos Garcia, Action Andy has won half of his eight 2012 starts.
“This is a good, competitive race,” said Garcia, who has tasted victory on Maryland Million day four times. “Andy is very consistent. If the track is fast he is going to run his heart out and is good going long or short. He gives you an honest effort every time out.”
First post is 12:35 p.m. with the Sprint scheduled for 5 p.m.
Twenty-seven horses have won more than one Maryland Million event. Twelve former winners are entered Saturday.
TWO 10-YEAR-OLDS ON SATURDAY’S CARD
La Reine’s Terms holds the Maryland Million mark for oldest winner, capturing the 2005 Turf at the age of 10. A pair of 10-year-olds are looking to match that mark Saturday afternoon.
In the $100,000 Turf Sprint, multiple stakes winner Heros Reward is the second choice on Frank Carulli’s morning line in a race where the son of Partner’s Hero takes on fellow millionaire Ben’s Cat. Claimed by Dale Capuano in April 2006 after his fifth career start, Heros Reward has won 14 of 48 races for Capuano, including three graded races.
“They don’t come along like him very often, that’s for sure,” Capuano said. “He’s sound and is just a pleasure to train. He shows up every time. You can’t ask for any more. This turf course, the turn’s a little tight for him on this turf course. He can’t accelerate like he does at Woodbine and some of the other tracks. He hasn’t run in about three months but is doing well. He worked in company the other day (bullet 5-furlongs on September 27). I normally don’t work him in company but I wanted a good strong work in him.”
Let Me Be Frank will be making his 113th career start in the $50,000 Maryland Million Starter Handicap, a race he won four years ago. Trainer Damon Dilodovico claimed the son of Awad seven months before his most important victory. Let Me be Frank has won 11 times in 30 starts for Dilodovico, including a victory here last month
“He’s a tough guy,” Dilodovico said. “He’s quite cantankerous, too. I don’t know if he’s green or what, but he’ll do something silly, like chuck a rider in the morning. He’ll act like he’s two sometimes. He’s crashed into cars. We thought he was finished but he came back off a year layoff (February 2011 to February 2012) . This horse is remarkable to come back from all that stuff to be competitive again but he loves to race and win. We want to keep him going but I wish this race was two turns.”
Carulli lists Let Me Be Frank at 10-1 in the one-turn one-mile test.