The $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint was moved to the main track after heavy earlier rain in Baltimore, but it made little difference to Ben's Cat, who won the event for the third time in four years at Pimlico Race Course May 16 (VIDEO).
The Maryland-bred 8-year-old legend notched the 21st stakes victory of his career and his 26th lifetime win overall in 39 starts on Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes undercard. All-time leading Maryland trainer King Leatherbury bred the son of Parker's Storm Cat—Twofox, by Thirty Eight Paces, and campaigns him in the colors of The Jim Stable.
With Julian Pimentel aboard, 2-5 favorite Ben's Cat tracked pacesetter Great Attack on a drying out main track rated good, poking his head in front at the eighth pole. He drew off over a stubborn Great Attack to win by 1 3/4 lengths in a time of :57.75.
"I didn't have any trouble in the race," Pimentel said "He always knows just what to do. So if any of them want to come after him in the stretch, they better hurry up if they plan to catch him."
Great Attack posted quarter mile fractions of :22.67 and :45.43 under Kendrick Carmouche and finished 2 3/4 lengths in front of Smash and Grab, guided by Jevian Toledo. Smash and Grab, the 5-2 second choice in a field reduced to five by the surface switch, was expected to set the pace but was off slowly.
Ben's Cat first won the listed Jim McKay Turf Sprint in 2011 and repeated in 2013 after finishing fifth in the 2012 renewal. Primarily a turf runner, of course, the dark bay gelding has won four of five lifetime starts on a wet track and is 10-for-14 overall on dirt.
Leatherbury is fourth on the all-time list of trainers with 6,428 winners behind Dale Baird, Steve Asmussen and Jerry Hollendorfer.
"The rider said all he does is hold on," Leatherbury said. "These aren't real tough spots. He's been the same over the past five years. I criticize myself taking so much for granted. I expect to win. He's spoiling me.
"I was hoping for the slop. He really loves the slop. In the morning on a sloppy track, he wants to break away. I think his best surface is equal—turf and slop. We say it every year, 'he's better than ever.' How long can we say that? He's 8. How long can he keep going like this? 9? 10? 11? It's hard to believe. He's a remarkable, amazing horse."
Boosting his career earnings to $1,967,990, the heavy choice carried 118 pounds and returned $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10 to bettors. Great Attack paid $3 and $2.20, completing a $7.60 exacta, while Smash and Grab paid $2.10. A P Elvis and Agonistic, who stumbled at the start, trailed. Scratched were Bold Thunder, This Ain't No Bull, Wicked Tune, and Spring to the Sky.
The switch to the main track also took a heavy toll on the $100,000 Hilltop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies as 3-5 favorite Our Epiphany took two opponents gate to wire for a 1 1/2-length tally under Grant Whitacre. Eight were originally entered for the turf.
Our Epiphany sprinted clear to lead by 1 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile test, eventually expanding the advantage to 3 1/2 lengths in the stretch under rousing in the drive before holding on over the closing Tupancy Links and Victor Carrasco. Southern Equity was far back in third (VIDEO).
Soft quarter mile fractions (:25.20, :50.79, 1:16.61) had Our Epiphany firmly in control en route to a final time of 1:48.07.
PTK LLC's Pennsylvania homebred Our Epiphany, a daughter of Great Notion —Racing Bridgett, by Not For Love, captured her stakes debut while improving her career mark to 2-1-1 in four outings—all on dirt—with earnings of $92,374. The gray/roan filly graduated at first asking March 8 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and was most recently third in an allowance/optional claiming race May 2 at Pimlico.
"When a race becomes a three-horse race, it becomes a jockeys' race," said winning trainer Dane Kobiskie. "I told (Whitacre) to make a decision to take the lead or fall back and get in the two or three path and force the other riders to work. The first jump she's always a step slow and then she's fully engaged. I felt better when it came off the grass, because I know what she can do on the dirt."
Our Epiphany paid $3.20 to win. Ther was no place or show wagering. The exacta was worth $5.