Ben's Cat takes control in the Laurel Dash.

Ben's Cat takes control in the Laurel Dash.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Ben's Cat Grabs Off-the-Turf Laurel Dash

King Leatherbury's standout grass sprinter outclasses five rivals on sloppy track.

Laurel Park’s turf monster turns out to be a main track monster, too. Ben's Cat powered away from five foes to win the off-the-turf $67,750 Laurel Dash Stakes by two lengths in the slop Oct. 29 (VIDEO).

Jeremy Rose was at the controls as the King Leatherbury trainee tracked front runners Ju Jitsu Jax and Royal Currier into the turn before collaring both and pulling away to win the six-furlong test impressively in 1:11.11 on a sealed track. Royal Currier held on for second, while Action Andy was a closing third.

There were six scratches due to the surface switch.

Ben’s Cat, who has won four of five stakes on the turf this year, could have started in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5 if Leatherbury had supplemented his 5-year-old star for $100,000.

“Ben just toyed with them,” said Rose. “To me it was one of his more powerful races. King and I were talking. He hasn’t been on dirt for a while, so I didn’t want to get behind a bunch of horses, so I just tipped to the outside.

"What amazes me is (Royal Currier) has back class. He just won the Gallant Bob in impressive fashion and he (Ben’s Cat) ran by him like he was a $12,000 claimer. I was laughing when we passed Luis (jockey Luis Garcia who rode the runner-up). I would like to see one day where somebody can actually stay with him to see what kind of kick he has. I haven’t got to the bottom of this horse.”

Bred, owned, and trained by Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat has won 14 of 19 starts, including nine stakes, with lifetime earnings of $778,230. The son of Parker's Storm Cat out of the Thirty Eight Paces mare Twofox had to recover from a broken pelvis before he made his maiden debut at age 4. He began his career with eight consecutive victories, including four on the main track.

“He keeps amazing me,” said Leatherbury, who ranks third on the all-time win list with 6,331 victories. “He did it for the fun of it today.”

The 78-year-old has conditioned two grade I winners: Catatonic (1987 Hempstead Stakes) and Taking Risks (1994 Iselin Handicap), saddled four Preakness runners, and other graded winners such as Ameri Valay, Learned Jake, Dynamic Trick, and Ah Day.

“It is hard to compare horses from different times but he keeps moving up the list,” added Leatherbury. “I think Ah Day and Taking Risks were faster but this horse is so calm and collected. He comes back to the winners’ circle and isn’t even blowing. He just keeps getting better and better.”

Rose, who rode Afleet Alex  to victories in the 2005 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I), says Ben’s Cat is the third best horse he has ever ridden.

“Alex, Havre de Grace, and him are 1-2-3,” Rose said. “I have been on some really top horses, including Big Brown  and Toccet, but Ben’s Cat is better than them.”

The winner, who is now seven-of-nine on the main track, paid $3.80, $2.20, and $2.10 while carrying top weight of 124 pounds. Royal Currier, under 122, returned $3.40 and $2.60. The exacta was worth $10.40. Action Andy paid $5.20.