Popular Ben's Cat won the battle but lost the war when Talk Show Man caught the gallant favorite in the final strides of the $126,250 Maryland Million Turf Oct. 19 at Laurel Park (VIDEO).
Ridden by Xavier Perez, Dr. Michael Harrison's Maryland homebred Talk Show Man prevailed by half a length at odds of 9-2 while completing the one-mile test in 1:39.20 over a good turf course. Hamilton Smith trains the winning 4-year-old son of Great Notion , who registered his first stakes score.
"I always admired Ben's Cat," Smith said. "It's a real honor to beat him. He's a great racehorse."
Ben's Cat was second as the 3-2 choice in the field of nine. Roadhog, seeking a third consecutive win in the Maryland Million Turf, finished 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third.
With regular rider Julian Pimentel aboard, Ben's Cat battled Roadhog and Kendrick Carmouche through the Laurel stretch and outlasted his rival—only to be tagged close to home by Talk Show Man.
In the other top feature during the 29th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million day, odds-on choice Eighttofasttocatch won the $150,000 Classic for the third time in four years (VIDEO).
It's news anytime Ben's Cat loses, and this was the third defeat in a row for the 8-year-old son of Parker's Storm Cat. A lifetime winner of 27 of 44 starts with $2.2 million in earnings, that hasn't happened to the dark bay gelding since February 2011, when he finished fourth in the General George Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel.
This was not going to be an easy race for Ben's Cat, whose best efforts have come while sprinting. Stretching out to a mile for the first time since he finished second in last year's Maryland Millions Turf, Ben's Cat was all heart, though, making an early move to get the lead near the three-eighths pole.
Talk Show Man was in stalking position on the outside in spite of being bumped at the start and carried wide into the clubhouse turn. Sitting third coming out of the far turn still three or four paths wide, he closed with determination in the final furlong to get up in time.
"At the quarter pole I started working (Talk Show Man) with the left hand," Perez said. "Ben's Cat pinned his ears back and I could see he was all out but the turf is deep on the rail and I knew it would be tough. So with the left hand down the stretch, he responded and got up to win."
Fractions for the race were :24.46 and :48.76 as 47-1 Capital Fellow led for the opening half mile, while Ben's Cat took the field through six furlongs in 1:13.64.
Ben's Cat, the King Leatherbury homebred, won three straight Maryland Million Turf Sprint's before that race was eliminated before the 2013 Maryland Million.
"He ran a dynamite race," Leatherbury said. "I've got no complaints on that. This makes me feel better. He didn't want to go a mile, but he dug in the best he could. (Talk Show Man) I liked the best from the beginning. That horse was bred to run long. I was worried that Ben would throw in a bad race today but he didn't. He gets older every year but keeps his form and he acquitted himself today."
Talk Show Man, who is out of the winning Haymaker mare Mark Me Special, rebounded from a fifth-place effort in an allowance/optional claiming race on the Laurel turf Sept. 17. The gelding was fifth in last year's Maryland Million Classic. This was Talks Show's second win on turf from seven tries and improved his career line to 4-2-5 in 16 starts with earnings of $200,581.
"At the three-eighths pole, when he made his move, it looked like it would three horses to the wire," said winning trainer Smith, who has five Maryland Million victories. "I was a little concerned when he lost as much ground as he did. He recovered and wore them down the last part. He ran a tremendous race and I'm really proud of him."
The winner carried 119 pounds and paid $11, $4.60, and $3.20, topping a $34.80 exacta with Ben's Cat, who returned $3 and $2.40. Roadhog was $2.60 to show.
Completing the order of finish were Loves Last Chance, Tru Greek, Uncle Hugo, Change of Command, Willy d'Rocket, and Capital Fellow.
In the Maryland Million Classic, Eighttofasttocatch once again lived up to his name. He took the lead shortly after the start, pulling clear on the first turn and never looking back en route to a 4 1/2-length triumph at odds of 3-5.
Forest Boyce rode the 8-year-old Not For Love gelding to victory in the 1 1/8-mile test in a time of 1:50.54 over a fast main track. Concealed Identity was second in the strung-out field, with Turbin 2 1/4 lengths farther back in third.
"I let him out a notch earlier this year," Boyce said. "There were more horses in here I thought could go with me this year. I wanted to make sure I had a nice big lead on them. They had every opportunity to catch us but I also didn't want them breathing down our necks all the way around."
Tim Keefe trains Eighttofasttocatch for owner Sylvia Heft. The chestnut was bred in Maryland by Dark Hollow Farm and Herringswell Stable out of the Nice Catch mare Too Fast to Catch.
Eighttofasttocatch posted fractions of :24.31, :47.57, 1:11.57, and 1:37.27 as he opened up by 4 1/2 lengths at the furlong mark, and was kept to his task by Boyce to the wire.
"Everything looks well planned after the fact but he came in well to this race," Keefe said. "That :24 and change in the first quarter, that was sweet. Forest was just sitting, relaxed over the first half. They couldn't get close to him today."
This was just the second start of the year for Eighttofasttocatch, who faded to eighth after setting the pace in the Japan Racing Association Stakes over the Laurel turf Sept. 6. He had concluded the 2013 season with three consecutive wins, starting with a 3 1/4-length tally in last year's Maryland Million Classic. He also won the race in 2011.
Now with 16 wins from 48 career starts, Eighttofasttocatch has banked $997,970. He is 14-for-27 at Laurel including 10 stakes victories over his home track. He can become the 24th Maryland-bred to reach millionaire status in his final career start in the Jennings Handicap at Laurel Dec. 6.
"He's going to my farm where my wife and daughter are planning to give him a second career as an event horse," Keefe said. "You know how thrilled I am when my horses get second careers. My daughter Ryan is 14 and will be stepping up to eventing and she thinks he could be a good horse for her."
Under equal weights of 119 pounds, he paid $3.20, $2.20, and $2.10. Concealed Identity returned $7 and $5.20, completing an $18.20 exacta. Turbin paid $4.
There were five other Maryland Million races on the program. The winners were Golden Years (Nursery), Classy Coco (Distaff Handicap), D C Dancer (Sprint Handicap), Bear Access (Ladies), and My Magician (Lassie).