King T. Leatherbury’s homebred gelding Ben’s Cat swept three divisional categories–older male, turf runner and sprinter–and was named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year of 2011 in the annual poll conducted by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
The richest Maryland-bred runner of 2011 with earnings of $588,250, Ben’s Cat made 11 starts in his second year of competition at age 5, all in stakes company, and won six times. His biggest score came in the $350,000 Turf Monster Handicap-G3 at Parx Racing on Sept. 5 in which he defeated 10 others in the five-furlong turf sprint, including the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint-G2 winner Chamberlain Bridge.
A Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In event, the Turf Monster victory ensured Ben’s Cat a fees-paid spot in the 2011 running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. However, Ben’s Cat is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, and Leatherbury only considered going if he could find a partner to foot the Breeders’ Cup nomination fee. The search provided a story which drew much media coverage in the weeks leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, but Ben’s Cat, who would have been one of the favorites, stayed in Maryland.
Never off the board in races at six furlongs or less in 2011 and always closing in dramatic fashion, Ben’s Cat also captured the five-furlong Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes at Pimlico on Black-Eyed Susan Day in May; the $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Handicap at five furlongs on the Penn National turf in July; and a second-consecutive running of the Maryland Million Turf Sprint on October 1. Four weeks later he got his fourth win in a row by taking the Laurel Dash at six furlongs, which was washed off the turf, winning by two lengths over track record-setter Royal Currier. Ben’s Cat’s first win of the season was the off-the-turf five-furlong Mister Diz Stakes for Maryland-breds at Pimlico.
Ben’s Cat had two near misses in $200,000 sprints. In the Parx Dash, he closed strongly to miss by a head; in his final start of the year, the Six Bits Handicap at Penn National, he finished in a blanket finish with Ravalo and Immortal Eyes, winding up third.
A son of former Maryland stallion Parker’s Storm Cat out of Twofox, by Thirty Eight Paces, Ben’s Cat is from the same family as state-bred champions Thirty Eight Go Go, Notches Trace and Ah Day, all bred by Leatherbury. Ben’s Cat, who was unraced until his 4-year-old season in 2010, earned champion sprinter and turf runner titles that year.
Ben’s Cat joins Heros Reward and Les Arcs as the only Maryland-breds to be awarded as many as three divisional titles in one year: Heros Reward earned the distinction in 2007 and ’08; Les Arcs in 2006.
Other divisional champions:
Champion 2-year-old male: Jack’s in the Deck (dk.b./br.c., Love of Money—Thracian, by Partner’s Hero). Bred by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman; owned by Skeedattle Associates; trained by Robin Graham.
Champion 2-year-old filly: Plum (ch.f., Pure Prize—Bamba, by Not For Love). Bred and owned by Dark Hollow Farm; trained by Rodney Jenkins.
Champion 3-year-old male: Poseidon’s Warrior (dk.b./br.c., Speightstown—Poised to Pounce, by Smarten). Bred by Dark Hollow Farm and William P. Beatson; owned by Swilcan Stable; trained by Robert E. Reid Jr.
Champion 3-year-old filly: Bold Affair (ch.f., Two Punch—Hunka Hunka Lori Z, by Colonial Affair). Bred and owned by Charles Reed and Michael Zanella; trained by Howard Wolfendale.
Champion older female: Ask the Moon (b.m., 2005, Malibu Moon—Always Asking, by Valid Appeal). Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGinnes and Country Life Farm; owned by Farnsworth Stables; trained by Marty Wolfson.
Champion steeplechaser: Incomplete (b.g., 2001, Press Card—Sioux Lady, by Poker). Bred by Hugo Procopio; owned by Robert A. Kinsley; trained by Ann D. Stewart.
Voting for this year’s champions were the MHBA board of directors, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred editors Joe Clancy and Cindy Deubler, Maryland Jockey Club’s racing secretary Georganne Hale, communications director Mike Gathagan and track announcer Dave Rodman, Bill Brasaemle and Keith Feustle of Equibase, reporter Jeannine Edwards, radio host Stan Salter, photographer Lydia Williams, and free-lance writers Dale Austin, Andy Beyer, Ted Black, Sean Clancy, Vinnie Perrone and John Scheinman.
Profiles of all the Maryland-bred champions will be posted later this week at www.marylandthoroughbred.com/breeders/champions/.