Best known for his success going two turns on the turf, Hillwood Stable's multiple stakes winner Phlash Phelps will cut back to a sprint for the first time in more than two years for Sunday's $75,000 Ben's Cat Stakes at Laurel Park.
The Ben's Cat for 3-year-olds and up and $75,000 Jameela for fillies and mares 3 and older, both 5 ½-furlong grass sprints restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses, are among five stakes worth $400,000 in purses on a nine-race Summer Sunday Stakes program, presented by 14 Hands Winery.
Phlash Phelps, a gelded 8-year-old son of Great Notion, hasn't sprinted since winning the six-furlong Mister Diz Stakes over Laurel's turf course June 24, 2017. The Mister Diz was later renamed after the late Mid-Atlantic legend that won 26 stakes and more than $2.6 million in purse earnings before his passing due to complications from colic surgery in July 2017, less than two weeks after being retired at the age of 11.
Trained by Rodney Jenkins, Phlash Phelps has raced only six times since then, all at a mile or more, most recently finishing seventh behind multiple Grade 1 winner Catholic Boy in the 1 1/16-mile Dixie (G2) May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, one race prior to the Preakness Stakes (G1).
Phlash Phelps was entered but scratched from a third-level 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance that was rained off the grass to the main track July 4 at Laurel.
“I think he'll be just fine. I'm going to run him,” Jenkins said. “He won it before. He's used to going a distance of ground, but he's fast enough. We'll see. It's a Maryland-bred race. It's not like it's an open race.
“He's doing just fine, he really is,” he added. “He's getting a little spunk back in him and he's getting back in shape. He's a nice-looking horse, and I think he'll run pretty good.”
Tom O'Grady's Dirty set a Dahlia turf course record for 5 ½ furlongs in the inaugural King T. Leatherbury Stakes – named for Ben's Cat's Hall of Fame breeder, owner and trainer – April 20 at Laurel, though his mark of 1:00.65 was broken by Stormy Blues-bound filly Introduced June 1 (1:00.55).
In one start following the Leatherbury, Dirty was a non-threatening sixth in the six-furlong Jaipur (G1) June 8 at Belmont Park, his graded debut. The 4-year-old Maclean's Music colt is unbeaten at Laurel, also having won a 5 ½-furlong allowance last June by five lengths over Oldies But Goodies, who also returns in the Ben's Cat.
D Hatman Thoroughbreds' Sonny Inspired will be making his 60th career start in the Ben's Cat, a race he won last year by three-quarters of a length, one of his four lifetime stakes victories. The first two came on dirt in the winter of 2016, the second a six-furlong sprint also named for Ben's Cat.
Mopo Racing's Eastern Bay debuted first off the claim for trainer Dale Capuano in the King Leatherbury, a troubled ninth-place finish where he trailed by as many as 17 lengths after a a half-mile to only be beaten by five on the wire. The 5-year-old gelding rebounded with a gutsy neck triumph over Oldies But Goodies in a third-level optional claiming allowance going the Ben's Cat distance June 2 at Laurel.
“He ran really well last time,” Capuano said. “The first time I ran him, I ran him in the stake and he had a lot of trouble coming out of the gate then was checked and still closed a lot of ground. He didn't get beat that far by a horse that set a course record. That race was a lot better than it probably looked on paper.
“He's doing well so hopefully he'll run as well as he did last time just without the trouble. The last time he was in a stake he didn't a chance to show himself, so we're hopefully he'll run a big race again,” he added. “He has speed. He has gone to the front so he's pretty versatile. I think he'll pretty much do whatever you want him to do.”
Also entered are 2018 Ben's Cat runner-up Grandiflora, Love You Much, Street Copper and Tempt Me Twice.
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