05/17/2017 8:30AM

11-year-old Ben's Cat goes for sixth win in Jim McKay Turf Sprint

Michael Amoruso
Ben's Cat with his Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury. Ben's Cat will try to win the Jim McKay Turf Sprint for a fifth straight time.

BALTIMORE – Ben’s Cat is the only horse in this year’s $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint who was born while the legendary sportscaster was still alive. And much like McKay – beloved in Baltimore, where he moved as a teen – the Maryland-bred Ben’s Cat has become a local institution.

Ben’s Cat is one of the most recognizable names in the three listed stakes on Pimlico’s Friday card as he seeks to win the McKay, a five-furlong turf dash, for the fifth straight time and the sixth time overall. Ben’s Cat, bred, owned, and trained by Hall of Famer King Leatherbury, has won 32 of 61 starts, including 26 stakes, for earnings of more than $2.6 million.

However, the 11-year-old gelding is looking to continue one streak by snapping another. He has lost six straight races, the longest skid of his career, dating to his neck triumph in last year’s McKay. Ben’s Cat finished fifth, but beaten less than a length after lacking running room from the rail, in his first start of 2017, an allowance race last month at Laurel Park.

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“He came out of the last race good,” Leatherbury said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the race because the 1 post hurt us. We couldn’t get out to make a move. He had to sit there so long, and we’re able to make a move at the end, but it was too late. It wasn’t the horses that I was worried about as much as the trip. We should have beat those kind of horses, so I was disappointed we didn’t. Now, we’ll go on to the [McKay]. It’ll be very difficult because he’s not supposed to win this all the time.”

Pay Any Price and Amelia’s Wild Ride stand out among those looking to break the local favorite’s hold on the McKay (race 10). Pay Any Price, a $25,000 claim last summer, has won three of four starts this year, including a victory in the Silks Run Stakes at Gulfstream over divisional standout Power Alert and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday.

A front-runner, Pay Any Price zipped the five furlongs in 53.61 seconds in the Silks Run, establishing a course record, and his Beyer Speed Figure of 106 is the top number earned this year in the McKay field.

Amelia’s Wild Ride is not only making his first start for a new trainer, Jane Cibelli, but his first in more than a year. A Grade 3 winner, he finished a close second to Power Alert in a pair of stakes at Gulfstream early in 2016.

Richard’s Boy is returning from Dubai, where he was fifth in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in March. That was his first time missing the board since January 2016. Since the start of last year, he has won the California Cup Sprint and finished second or third in six other stakes.

Hilltop: Victory for ‘Victory’?

Grade 1 winner Victory to Victory looms large in the $100,000 Hilltop (race 8), for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on turf. The filly is coming off a two-length victory in a Keeneland allowance, her first start since winning the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine more than seven months prior. She missed last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with a minor splint-bone problem.

Victory to Victory is part of a strong group of turf fillies for trainer Mark Casse, who sent out La Coronel and Dream Dancing to run one-two in the Grade 3 Edgewood Stakes two weeks ago at Churchill Downs. La Coronel is bound for the renowned Royal Ascot meeting.

“We’re really excited to get [Victory to Victory] back in stakes company and think she’s really primed to have a big year,” said Norman Casse, the top assistant to his father. “Early winter, when she started training again, you could tell she was almost like a different horse – in a good way. She was a good horse as a 2-year-old, obviously, but she really seems to be touting herself now. We have a really good problem right now because we have three really talented turf fillies. We’re going to have a lot of fun with those horses all year long.”

The field also includes the stakes winners Compelled, who was second in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant Stakes and third in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks, beaten less than a length each time, and Happy Mesa, who was second by a neck in the Sanibel Island Stakes last out. Sweeping Paddy finished third behind La Coronel and Dream Dancing in the Edgewood.

Stepping up to stakes company for the first time is Dance Queen, who has won both of her starts. She tied for this field’s highest last-out Beyer, an 83, while winning an optional claimer at Aqueduct last month. Sweeping Paddy earned the same figure in the Edgewood.

Skipat: Primonetta rematch

The $100,000 Skipat Stakes (race 13), for fillies and mares going six furlongs, has drawn the top two finishers from the Primonetta Stakes at Laurel Park, Absatootly and Lovable Lady, as well as Disco Chick, the defending winner of the Skipat. Disco Chick has finished second or third in seven straight stakes.

Clipthecouponannie, a stakes winner last year, comes off a third in the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct in her first outing in nearly four months. The winner of the Distaff, Highway Star, is a three-time graded stakes winner.