The 27th Jim McKay Maryland Million attracted 106 entrants to the 11-race program Saturday. First post for the $1.05 million day for horses by stallions standing in Maryland is 12:35 p.m. EDT, with the Turf Sprint scheduled for 3:34 p.m.
Ben's Cat, a 6-year-old son of Parker's Storm Cat, became King Leatherbury's first millionaire with a victory in the Turf Monster Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Parx Racing in his last start. He has won 17 of 26 starts with earnings of $1,161,090.
Bred, owned and trained by Leatherbury, Ben's Cat has been victorious in 10 of 15 tries on the turf and has 12 stakes scores overall. He had to recover from a broken pelvis before he made his maiden debut at age 4 in 2010, then began his career with eight consecutive victories, which included a 4 1/2 length win in the Turf Sprint. He won last year's Turf Sprint by a length.
"It is an incredible story because the kind of horses I breed are not high-quality," said Leatherbury. "His sire was an unknown with a $2,500 stud fee and the mare was a homebred. He's a Cinderella-type horse from that standpoint. Starting with serious problems, through that, even getting to the races and running as a claimer would have been a nice story. He's maintained his class and he's doing fine so there are no excuses except for the weight."
The prohibitive 3-5 morning line favorite, Ben's Cat will carry 128 pounds—11 to 18 more than his rivals—including jockey Julian Pimentel, who was Ben's Cat's regular rider in 2010 and regained the mount this summer.
"He just finds a way to win," Pimentel said. "I think he's as good as he was during his 4-year-old season. He has been really aggressive in his last three races and his mind isn't running all over the place like in the past."
Multiple stakes winner Heros Reward is the second choice on Frank Carulli's morning line for the Turf Sprint. Claimed by Dale Capuano in April 2006 after his fifth career start, the 10-year-old son of Partner's Hero has won 14 of 48 races for Capuano, including three graded races.
"They don't come along like him very often, that's for sure," Capuano said. "He's sound and is just a pleasure to train. He shows up every time. You can't ask for any more. This turf course, the turn's a little tight for him on this turf course. He can't accelerate like he does at Woodbine and some of the other tracks. He hasn't run in about three months but is doing well."