Maryland Million Sprint

December 10, 2019

Jack’s in the Deck Pulls Off Upset in Maryland Million Sprint Favored Ben’s Cat Nosed Out in Return to Main Track

LAUREL, MD – Ben’s Cat rounded the turn into the homestretch, poised to make yet another winning stretch drive in Saturday’s $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel Park.

The venerable 9-year-old gelding, who was making his sixth Maryland Million appearance of his illustrious career, pulled alongside Jack’s in the Deck at the top of the stretch, raising the hopes of the bettors who made him their 3-5 favorite – as well as their sentimental favorite.

Ben’s Cat gave it his all under urgent handling by jockey Julian Pimentel, but Jack’s In the Deck and jockey Forest Boyce fought back along the inside to deny Maryland’s living legend his 31st career win and fourth triumph in the program for horses sired by accredited Maryland stallions.

The order of finish of the six-furlong race on the main track was decided by a photo finish and, ultimately, a nose.

“You just never know. The other day I thought I won one and I lost it,” Boyce said. “This horse (Ben’s Cat) has beaten me so many times, so it feels good to be on the other side.”

Ben’s Cat had captured the Turf Sprint three times before finishing second in the Turf the past two years. Saturday marked his first start on dirt in nearly a year.

“He looked like he was going to win at the eighth-pole,” said owner/breeder/trainer King Leatherbury, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August. “Then [Jack’s in the Deck] came up with the super race. They fought it out and they bested us.”

Jack’s in the Deck, the 5-1 third betting choice, had the back class to offer Ben’s Cat a run for his money, having captured the Futurity (G2) at Belmont Park in his second lifetime start in July 2011. Although winless in three prior Maryland Million starts, the 6-year-old son of Love of Money came into Saturday’s clash with Ben’s Cat in good form for his return to the main track following two recent turf stakes starts.

“We knew he had the ability. He broke his maiden in the Belmont Futurity, but he’s had some health issues, including a bad right ankle,” said trainer Robin Graham, who owns the gelding in partnership with M.E. Jones. “The two turf races were really good preps coming back to the dirt. We’re so happy.”

Longshot Shirakuma assumed the early lead from his inside position, pressed by It’s a Bang and stalked by Jacks in the Deck on the outside and Ben’s Cat on the inside during a first quarter in 22.84 seconds. Jacks in the Deck cruised to the lead and cleared the tiring pacesetters on the far turn but was quickly joined by Ben’s Cat at the top of the stretch, setting up the thrilling finish. D C Dancer, the 2014 Sprint winner, finished third, two lengths farther back, under jockey Angel Serpa.

Jacks in the Deck ran six furlongs in 1:10.74 to earn the $55,000 winner’s purse, swelling his career bankroll to nearly $340,000.