Popular 11-year-old gelding Ben's Cat, a 26-time stakes winner and earner of more than $2.6 million in lifetime purses, returns for another shot at ending his career-high losing streak in Saturday's $75,000 Mister Diz at Laurel Park.
The 34th running of the Mister Diz for 3-year-olds and up and 30th running of the $75,000 Jameela for fillies and mares 3 and older, both six-furlong sprints on the Fort Marcy layout restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses, are two of six stakes worth $450,000 in purses on the 11-race 'Class on the Grass' program.
Other stakes to be contested over Laurel's world-class turf course, all for Virginia-bred/sired horses, are the $75,000 Edward Evans and $75,000 Nellie Mae Cox at one mile, and the $75,000 White Oak Farm and $75,000 M. Tyson Gilpin at 5 ½ furlongs.
Bred, owned and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben's Cat suffered his seventh consecutive defeat when eighth in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint May 19 at historic Pimlico Race Course, a race he had won four straight times and five of the previous six years.
Ben's Cat has had a similar hold on the Mister Diz, having won six straight editions from 2010-15 before being upset by John Jones last year, finishing third as the favorite.
“We've got to run in that race. I mean, he's expected to be in there. We're going to be running,” Leatherbury said. “Like other years, I love him and this year he's approaching the question mark of retirement. We're certainly going to run in this race and we'll go from there.
“If we think we can get a piece of the purse, a decent piece of the purse, [he'll run],” he added. “And then, when the time comes when he can't do that, he'll go to live the rest of his life on the farm.”
During his dry spell, Ben's Cat has not been beaten by more than 4 ¼ lengths in six grass starts; the lone exception was a disappointing effort in the Maryland Million Sprint contested on dirt. Nine of his 32 career victories have come at the Mister Diz distance.
“He didn't get beat by much, but he didn't get anything and that's the main thing. We always have little excuses,” Leatherbury said. “When you win, you don't even think about excuses. When you get beat, and I'm not an excuse man, there's something like the rider commenting on him handling the surface. He didn't seem to be getting over it really well last time, but like I say that's an excuse. You can only make excuses for so long and you have to face reality.”
Horacio Karamanos, fresh off his 2,000th career victory Sunday at Laurel, replaces the injured Trevor McCarthy aboard Ben's Cat for the Mister Diz from Post 10. One of just six jockeys to ride Ben's Cat in his 62-race career, Karamanos has one win from two previous tries in the 2012 Mister Diz.
Not including his race debut May 8, 2010 at Pimlico, Ben's Cat has won seven of the nine races when Leatherbury has made a rider change, including the Mister Diz in 2010 with Rosemary Homeister Jr. and 2011 with Jeremy Rose. The most recent came May 1, 2016 when Ben's Cat captured an open allowance in his 10-year-old debut under McCarthy, aboard for each of the past nine starts.
He came out of the last race fine, and he's doing OK,” Leatherbury said. “I'm not as optimistic as I usually am, but we'll see.”
Among the 11 horses entered to face Ben's Cat is Hillwood Stable's Phlash Phelps, back-to-back winner of the one-mile Maryland Million Turf in 2015 and 2016 making his 6-year-old debut. The bay Great Notion gelding has not raced since being beaten a nose in a third-level optional claiming allowance Nov. 19 at Laurel.
Trainer Rodney Jenkins typically gives his turf horses the winter off and Phlash Phelps spent four months at Dark Hollow Farm before returning to training. He shows a steady string of breezes at Laurel for his return.
“He's doing very well. He's ready to run. I don't know if sprinting is his game, but that's OK. We'll get a race under him and go from there,” Jenkins said. “He looks good and he's acting good. He's like the old Phlash Phelps.”
Phlash Phelps hasn't sprinted since breaking his maiden going five furlongs April 23, 2015 at Pimlico in his seventh start. Regular rider Victor Carrasco, the leader of the current summer meet, has the call.
“I think he should show natural speed. He always does,” Jenkins said. “If he's in striking distance he should give them a good run to the wire.”
Also entered in the Mister Diz are multiple stakes winner Sonny Inspired; stakes winners Eyeplayeveryday and Talk Show Man, the latter exiting a fifth-place finish in the Dixie (G2) May 20; and stakes-placed English Minister, Grandiflora and Rockinn On Bye.
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