Popular Maryland-bred multi-millionaire Ben's Cat will have to end one streak to continue another as the 11-year-old gelding seeks his fifth straight victory in the $100,000 Maker's Mark Jim McKay Turf Sprint May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.
The Jim McKay, for 3-year-olds and older at five furlongs on the grass, is one of seven stakes, four graded, on the Black-Eyed Susan Day program that also includes the $100,000 Hilltop Stakes on turf and $100,000 Skipat Stakes at six furlongs on dirt, both for females 3 and up.
Bred, owned, and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben's Cat has lost a career-high six straight races dating back to his neck triumph in last year's Jim McKay, a race he has won five of the last six years.
The storied career of Ben's Cat includes 32 wins from 61 starts and 26 stakes victories—four in grade 3 company—with a bankroll of $2.6 million.
"He's a racehorse. He's sound. There's no reason why he shouldn't run, unless he's just getting beaten too badly," Laurel Park-based Leatherbury said. "How can I pass up a race that he's won five out of six times? You have to run just because he belongs in the race. It'd be a very pleasant surprise if he won it, but you never can tell."
Ben's Cat returned from his annual winter vacation to finish fifth, beaten less than a length, in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance on Laurel's turf course April 16. He drew the rail and found himself in tight quarters until deep stretch and was unable to utilize his late kick.
"He came out of the last race good. I wasn't satisfied with the race because the 1 post hurt us. We couldn't get out to make a move. He had to sit there so long and were able to make a move at the end, but it was too late," Leatherbury said. "It wasn't the horses that I was worried about as much as the trip. We should have beat those kind of horses, so I was disappointed we didn't. Now we'll go on to the race."
Jockey Trevor McCarthy, who took over as Ben's Cat's regular rider last year will be aboard from post 5.
Ben's Cat will have to contend with an overflow field of 16 entered including South Florida-based stakes-winning speedball Pay Any Price, trained by Ralph Ziadie. He will run in the name of Tampa-based trainer Gerald Bennett.
Claimed for $25,000 last summer, Pay Any Price has won three of four starts this year, all in front-running fashion at Gulfstream Park. The 7-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding upset graded stakes winner Power Alert and 2015 TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) winner Mongolian Saturday in the Silks Run Stakes March 11, rolling to a 3 1/4-length victory in a track-record :53.61. He returned to take a starter optional claiming race by 1 3/4 lengths April 14.
"I thought it was a pretty good race that he ran (in the Silks Run). I didn't expect him to set the track record but I wasn't surprised with the way he ran. I was expecting him to run a good race," Ziadie said.
Edgard Zayas ships in from Florida to ride Pay Any Price from post 4.
Victory to Victory's last two wins came at the Hilltop's one-mile distance. Trained by Mark Casse, Victory to Victory was a gate-to-wire winner of a Keeneland allowance to open her 3-year-old campaign April 23.
The race was the first for Victory to Victory since the Natalma, after which she had to be scratched from a planned start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) with a hoof abscess.
"We were really impressed with her allowance race at Keeneland," said Casse's son and top assistant Norman. "We knew she'd run well, and she certainly didn't disappoint. And she's trained great since then. We're really excited to get her back in stakes company and think she's really primed to have a big year."
Among her challengers are a pair of horses from Sagamore Racing, Chubby Star and Follow No One. Off the board in a pair of stakes tries last fall, Chubby Star has a third, a second, and a half-length entry-level allowance win April 7 at Keeneland in three starts this year.
Follow No One is coming off a runner-up finish in a Gulfstream allowance March 12, her first try against winners following a 1 3/4-length maiden claiming win Feb. 1 going one mile.
Trainer Todd Pletcher cuts Repole Stable's Clipthecouponannie back to her favorite distance in the $100,000 Skipat Stakes.
The 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo , undefeated in three tries at six furlongs, won the Franklin Square Stakes against New York-breds in February 2016 at Aqueduct. She saw her overall win streak end at four with her first career loss in the seven-furlong Distaff Handicap (G3) April 9, just her second start in 14 months.
"I thought she ran well. It was her first time in open company stakes. I thought she ran hard," Pletcher said. "She might be a little better suited for this distance. Essentially she's run well every time and I thought she did last time, as well, despite not winning. Six furlongs seems to be her forte."
Multiple stakes winner Lovable Lady, based at Pimlico with trainer Mary Eppler, has never been worse than third in 10 lifetime tries at six furlongs, winning four times, three of them in Laurel stakes. She enters off a runner-up effort in the six-furlong Primonetta Stakes April 22.