ELMONT, N.Y. - He has made his name and fortune terrorizing turf sprinters in the Mid-Atlantic, and now win machine Ben's Cat will make his first appearance at Belmont Park on Saturday as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur Invitational Stakes.
On a star-studded race card that climaxes with California Chrome's attempt to win the Triple Crown in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the Jaipur will go off as the fourth race with a scheduled post time of 1:16 p.m. EDT.
The story of Ben's Cat is a remarkable one. Having suffered a broken pelvis as a 2-year-old, the son of obscure Storm Cat sire Parker's Storm Cat debuted as a 4-year-old in a $20,000 claiming race.
He won that day, then again. Then again and again and again, taking his first eight starts before the streak was stopped in December 2010 in the Forty Niner Stakes on the inner track at Aqueduct, the only other time he has run in New York.
Four years later, now an 8-year-old, Ben's Cat is the stuff of legend. He has won 26 of 39 starts and $1,967,990 and is the best horse ever run by King T. Leatherbury, racing's fourth all-time leading trainer by wins with 6,429 as of June 5. Twenty-one of those victories have come in stakes, from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, turf and dirt.
"He's an 8-year-old and he's come back as good as ever," said Leatherbury, 81, who plans to watch the Jaipur at Pimlico. "His first two races [this year] were almost the exact same races he ran his first two races last year."
Those first races were the Mister Diz Stakes, which he won for the fifth time, and the Jim McKay Turf Sprint on May 16.
Leatherbury is a renowned handicapper, and he shifted away from plans to run in a stakes race at Penn National to chase the $300,000 purse of the Jaipur. He made that decision, however, before Bret Calhoun committed Marchman, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, who is coming off back-to-back Grade 3 turf sprint victories in Kentucky. Marchman, too, had originally been pointed to the Pennsylvania race.
"This race got a lot tougher," Leatherbury said. "Marchman is one and then Linda Rice's horse [Marriedtothemusic] is another. I thought I had the rest of them easily beat, but some of the light-weighted horses at 114 pounds are contenders, too."
Ben's Cat likes a target, and Leatherbury doesn't see many speed burners in the six-furlong race.
"Ben's Cat, he doesn't like to go to the front," said Leatherbury. "He likes somebody to run at, and I think he knows he's supposed to catch the horse in front of him. He never wins by much, but he nails them when it's time to catch them."
Marchman broke his maiden turf sprinting last year at Churchill Downs, but he didn't get back to it in earnest until his past three starts. He finished third to the fleet Gantry in March at the Fair Grounds, then took the Grade 3 Shakertown at Keeneland and Grade 3 Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.
He also figures to be a prominent pace player in a race filled with stalkers.
"He's a horse that's seemed to get better and better," Calhoun said. "We've kept him sprinting on the grass his last two times, and I think he'll turf, dirt or synthetic. Those last two races were 5 Â½ furlongs and this is three quarters.
"I originally was going to go to the [Pennsylvania] Governor's Cup up there at Penn National, but both (Leatherbury and I) changed our minds to go here. I thought it was an obvious spot for him for more money. It's going to be a good race."
Eleven horses are signed up for the Jaipur, including the Todd Pletcher-trained Salto, who will cut back in distance after placing in three straight routes in Florida. Also in is Undrafted, second last out for trainer Wesley Ward behind Marchman in the Turf Sprint. Those horses are both listed at 5-1.
Spring to the Sky, 15-1, has the look of a live long shot for Belmont-based trainer Bruce Brown.
The 5-year-old son of Langfuhr just missed the 5 Â½-furlong turf course record at Saratoga last summer, when he wired a field in 1:00.81. Brown later ran him in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, where he finished 11th, beaten 4 Â½ lengths by Mizdirection. He also finished a close second to Ben's Cat last year in the Jim McKay on Preakness Day.
"I've always been real high on this horse, but he's never been able to put it together," Brown said. "He's one of those horses that works fast in the morning and runs hard, so you have to space out his races.
"We almost beat Ben's Cat - well, we didn't almost beat him - but we ran good against him at Pimlico. Now he's coming to our home."
Global Power, Marriedtothemusic (cross-entered in Friday's Grade 2 True North on dirt), Upgrade, Anyriderill Do, Non Stop and Positive Side complete the field.
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