Ben's Cat will remain on turf as he targets a record fourth win in the 29th Jim McKay Maryland Million at Laurel Park Oct. 18.
Owner/trainer King Leatherbury opted for the $125,000 Turf at one mile for 8-year-old Ben's Cat instead of the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint on dirt earlier on the Saturday card. The 29-time winner was pre-entered in both races.
The noted turf sprinter has been more effective at shorter distances over his career but he ran a tough second as the 11-10 favorite in the Maryland Million Turf last year. He missed by a neck after leading in the stretch to Roadhog, who also is entered again.
Ben's Cat drew post 2 for his return to the Maryland Million. He won the Turf Sprint three consecutive years (2010-12) before the race was eliminated from the popular series for Maryland-breds.
Leatherbury initially was leaning to the Sprint Saturday, but changed his mind because he felt the Turf was an easier race.
"He’s (Roadhog) not as good as last year, I don’t think," the 81-year-old conditioner said.
With earnings of $2,175,990 over a 43-race career, Ben's Cat is looking to surpass Hall of Fame runner 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) as the only four-time Maryland Million winners. Julian Pimentel will once again be aboard Ben's Cat, who will carry 119 pounds in the weight-for-age contest.
Ben's Cat has 17 stakes victories on grass but is coming into the race off a third-place finish in the Laurel Dash three weeks ago.
"The last race was very disappointing to me," Leatherbury said. "A lot of times you run third and you’re happy to get third, but not when you expect to win. Even though he ran a nice race, I was disappointed. It worries me a little bit. Usually he runs better than I think he will."
Roadhog, who also won the Maryland Million Turf in 2012, has a win and three second-place finishes in six starts this year for trainer Lizzie Merryman. The 7-year-old son of Bowman's Band is 10-of-35 lifetime with earnings of $609,114. He drew post 9 with Kendrick Carmouche back aboard.
The \Maryland Million attracted 124 entrants to the 11-race program. First post for the $1 million day is 12:15 p.m. EDT. The Maryland Million Turf is the ninth race on the card with a scheduled post time of 5:01 p.m. EDT.
One race later, the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at 1 1/8 miles features nine entrants including defending champion Eighttofasttocatch, who also won the race in 2011. The 8-year-old is the overwhelming 3-5 morning line favorite.
The gelded son of Not For Love finished off the board in his only start this year but Eighttofasttocatch has nine career stakes victories at Laurel Park. A win in the Classic would vault the Tim Keefe trainee past $1 million in career earnings. He is currently at $914,585.
"He’s coming into the race well," Keefe said. "He’s had a lot of time off, longer than I wanted. He’s been training well.”
Keefe indicated his Laurel-based star would be retired after the Jennings Handicap at Laurel Dec. 6.
"It’s hard when you’ve dictated a horse like this with a starting time and a finishing point and the finishing point is coming up," said Keefe, who has four career Maryland Million wins. "It’s a little bittersweet knowing that this is my favorite race of the year, always look forward to this and knowing that he’s just got one more after that. The saving grace is that he comes back to me."