Several hours before the $200,000 Fabulous Strike Handicap Nov. 29 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, trainer King Leatherbury said the 8-year-old gelding Ben's Cat never has been better.
His assessment proved accurate when Ben's Cat produced one of the best efforts of his 45-race career to capture the Fabulous Strike for the third time in its three editions at the Pennsylvania track (VIDEO). Though known as a turf sprinter, Ben's Cat has won 11 races, most of them stakes, on the dirt.
"It's crazy to say this about an 8-year-old, but he has never been better," Leatherbury told HRTV about four hours before the Fabulous Strike. "You would expect the rascal to tail off, but honestly he has never been better. I definitely see him racing at 9, maybe even 10. He shows no signs of tailing off."
Ridden as usual by Julian Pimentel, 3-1 second choice Ben's Cat broke well from the gate but was taken back to fifth behind an early speed duel that developed among King Henry, Tightend Touchdown, River Rocks, and Joe Tess. The early fractions were swift on the track rated fast—:21.77 for the opening quarter-mile and :44.61 for the half-mile in the six-furlong stakes.
Pimentel asked Ben's Cat for run on the far turn, and the old-timer circled foes, took the lead in the stretch, and wasn't threatened en route to a 3 1/4-length win in 1:09.46. Bern Identity rallied from ninth and last to nab second, a nose ahead of 74-1 shot Barracuda Wayne.
Favored River Rocks, part of the early pace war, checked in fifth behind fourth-place finisher Trickmeister . Grade I winner Strapping Groom, scratched from the Nov. 27 Fall Heighweight Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack to race in the Fabulous Strike, finished sixth after dueling for the lead. He broke down after the finish and was vanned off; his condition wasn't immediately known.
Ben's Cat, owned by The Jim Stable headed by Leatherbury, was bred by the venerable conditioner in Virginia. He's by Parker's Storm Cat out of the Thirtyeightpaces mare Twofox and has now earned $2,320,990 with 28 wins, six seconds, and four thirds in 45 starts.
Twenty-three of his victories have come in stakes.
"I know he can't keep going, but he keeps doing this," Leatherbury said.
In his previous start, Ben's Cat finished a game second behind Talk Show Man in the Maryland Million Turf at one mile at Laurel Park. Though Ben's Cat has run very well at one mile on the grass, Leatherbury has said he'd rather not run the gelding at that distance.
Since the Maryland Million effort, Ben's Cat has worked liked clockwork on the dirt at Laurel. He was entered in the Nov. 15 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Stakes at Laurel, but Leatherbury scratched Ben's Cat to wait for the Penn National race.
Ben's Cat returned $8.40, $4.40, and $3 across the board. Bern Identity, third in the De Francis in his last start, paid $4.80 and $4, while Barracuda Wayne was worth $10.60 to show. The $2 exacta returned $37.20 and the $2 trifecta $970.80.