Under a brilliant sky of blue on a Saturday morning that brought freezing temperatures to the Mid-Atlantic, they laid the remains of Ben's Cat in the frozen ground at Laurel Park.
In a ceremony attended by approximately 150 horsemen, jockeys and fans – and breeder, owner and Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury – Ben's Cat's remains were lowered into the ground on the northeast side of Laurel's historic paddock. He died from complications following surgery earlier this year.
“Ben's Cat was an amazing, magnificent animal,” said Leatherbury, who bent down to rest a dozen orange roses – the color of Leatherbury's and Ben's Cat silks – in front of the gelding's final resting place.
— Laurel Park (@LaurelPark) November 11, 2017
After thanking the crowd for attending, Leatherbury turned back to face Ben's Cat's final resting place and saluted.
The plaque over the gravesite reads:
April 17, 2006 – July 18, 2017
63 starts, 32 wins (including 26 stakes)
Bred and trained by
Owned by the Jim Stable
“The Beast from the East”
Pastor Richard Monterrey, a former Maryland jockey, eulogized four-time Maryland Horse of the Year Ben's Cat as a horse who “gave us incredible moments in Maryland racing and Thoroughbred racing.”
“He gave us chills,” Monterrey said.
Those attending included Maryland Jockey Club President and General Manager Sal Sinatra, Vice President of Racing Georganne Hale, jockeys Trevor McCarthy, Julian Pimentel, and former jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr., assistant trainer Avon Thorpe and groom Fern Augusti.
Also attending was Chris Welker, whose farm in Kentucky Ben's Cat was retired to, as well as several fans from across the country including James Weiler and Angie Bailey, who flew from Cincinnati for the service.
“He was very special,” Weiler said. “I watched his races from Turfway Park. I remember races like the Parx Dash and especially the McKay, when he came running from way back between horses. He was incredible.”
After the services, Leatherbury and every jockey who won aboard Ben's Cat – Pimentel, McCarthy, Jeremy Rose, Homeister, Horacio Karamanos – signed memorabilia and a Ben's Cat poster while chatting with fans.
After the third race, Leatherbury was presented with a collage of Ben's Cat's photographs by award-winning Maryland Jockey Club photographer Jim McCue, and a portrait of Ben's Cat with Leatherbury by Pulitzer Prize finalist photographer Jon Kral.
“I'm overwhelmed by the appreciation everyone has for Ben's Cat,” Leatherbury said.
Less than 30 minutes after the ceremony, Leatherbury's silks were back in the winner's circle after winning the fourth race with the 11-year-old gelding Classic Wildcat.
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