Ben's Cat Seeks Third Jim McKay Victory
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Ben's Cat winning the 2013 Jim McKay Turf Sprint.
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The $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes May 16 at Pimlico Race Course could be a one-horse show as popular Maryland-bred gelding Ben's Cat towers over eight opponents for the five-furlong dash.
The 8-year-old son of Parker's Storm Cat has won more than $1.9 million and is the winningest horse ever for trainer King Leatherbury, who campaigns him as a homebred under his The Jim Stable banner. Earlier this year, Ben's Cat was named Maryland's Horse of the Year for a third consecutive year.
The victor in two of the past three editions of the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, Ben's Cat comes in after capturing Pimlico's Mister Diz Stakes for the fifth straight year while making his 2014 bow.
When asked if Ben's Cat was getting better with age, Leatherbury said: "It does appear that way. It's hard to say for certain, though, because it is very strange for a horse to maintain stakes-caliber form over this many years. But I just had another trainer who came into Pimlico recently tell me, 'King, Ben's looking better than he ever has.'
"So that's an outsider's opinion. I'm lucky to have other trainers watching my horse and saying things like that, and I don't even have to pay them!"
Leatherbury said the distance of Jim McKay Turf Sprint, the surface, and being on his home track suits Ben's Cat perfectly, and he expects his runner to be the morning-line favorite.
"I've looked at the nominations and I knew right away he's going to be the favorite," Leatherbury said. "The race isn't drawing big out-of-town horses from California or New York, and though there will be some good runners, I feel relatively safe. He's coming into this race good, like he always does. He's just an amazing horse."  
Leatherbury bred Ben's Cat out of his stakes-placed homebred Twofox, by Thirty Eight Paces. He was unraced until May of his 4-year-old season in 2010 and has since compiled a 25-4-3 record, including 20 stakes wins, from 38 lifetime starts.
Challengers include graded stakes winner Great Attack, who starts for the first time in nearly six months after winning an allowance-optional claiming race Nov. 20 at Churchill Downs; and stakes winners Smash and Grab; Bold Thunder; This Ain't No Bull; Wicked Tune; Spring to the Sky, who was second in last year's Jim McKay Turf Sprint; and stakes-placed A P Elvis.
Also on the card, Sagamore Farm homebred Daring Dancer will try to retain her unbeaten record when she meets seven opponents in the $100,000 Hilltop Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf contest for 3-year-old fillies.
Trainer Graham Motion's Empire Maker   filly was a game winner of the one-mile Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (gr. IIIT) April 17 at Keeneland, spearing between rivals with a furlong to run and scooting clear to a 2 1/2-length triumph in her first start in nearly six months and her third win from as many career starts. She was taking a big step up after winning her debut by two lengths in September at Laurel Park turf and following with a 2 1/2-length allowance victory on the grass at Churchill Downs Oct. 27 in the final start of her juvenile campaign. She stretches out to the Hilltop distance for the first time.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey won last year's edition of the race with Emotional Kitten and are back for another go-round with High Wire Kitten, who has been a regular workmate of Preakness Stakes (gr. I) hopeful Pablo Del Monte, both trained by Wesley Ward.
The homebred daughter of Kitten's Joy   cuts back in distance after finishing sixth in her stakes bow in the 1 1/8-mile Herecomethebride (gr. IIIT) March 2 at Gulfstream Park. From four turf starts, she finished second in her maiden debut last fall at Keeneland and two starts later Dec. 22 she broke through in a 1 1/16-mile turf contest at Gulfstream Park. Shipped up to Turfway Park, she won going a mile on the Polytrack eight days later in her final 2014 start.
The field also includes Michael Tabor's Lucky for You, a well-beaten runner-up in the March 23 Sunland Park Oaks who tries turf for the first time, and Ramona Bass' Courtesan, winner of the 2013 Juvenile Filly Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park. 
$100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint (Race 9, approximate post time 4:16 p.m. EDT) 3 & Up, five furlongs.
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1.  Great Attack (FL), K. Carmouche, 118, H. I. McMahon
2.  Smash and Grab (KY), J. Toledo, 118, P. Rodriguez
3.  Bold Thunder (KY), J. C. Ferrer, 118, P. Farro
4.  A P Elvis (MD), F. Boyce, 118, J. J. Campitelli
5.  This Ain't No Bull (PA), F. Pennington, 118, C. G. Reese
6.  Wicked Tune (FL), J. Rosario, 122, J. Cibelli
7.  Spring to the Sky (KY), J. R. Velazquez, 118, B. R. Brown
8.  Ben's Cat (MD), J. Pimentel, 118, K. T. Leatherbury
9.  Agonistic (PA), T. McCarthy, 118, P. J. Graham
$100,000 Hilltop Stakes (Race 12, approximate post time 6:22 EDT) 3-year-old, fillies, one mile, turf
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1.  Daring Dancer (MD), A. Garcia, 120, H. G. Motion
2 . Tupancy Links (KY), V. R. Carrasco, 116, V. J. Allinson
3.  Lucky for You (KY), J. Castellano, 116, T. A. Pletcher
4.  Buttercup Bay (KY), no rider, 116, A. Delacour
5.  Southern Equity (KY), V. R. Carrasco, 116, H. A. Smith
6.  Courtesan (FL), J. Rosario, 120, C. Clement
7.  High Wire Kitten (KY), J. R. Velazquez, 116, W. A. Ward
8.  Our Epiphany (PA), G. Whitacre, 116, D. Kobiskie

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