11/24/2014 1:38PM

Ben’s Cat looks to end skid in Fabulous Strike Handicap

Barbara Weidl/Equi-Photo
Ben's Cat wins the Parx Dash on July 12.

Maryland-based millionaire Ben’s Cat won the Fabulous Strike Handicap in each of the past two years and missed by a neck in a three-way photo when the sprint was known as the Six Bits in 2011. Despite his accomplishments, Ben’s Cat is no better than the third choice at 5-1 on the morning line among 12 sprinters lined up for the $200,000 Fabulous Strike on Thanksgiving Eve at Penn National.

Either Ben’s Cat isn’t getting any respect or the competition is a lot tougher. The latter seems to be true. The 8-year-old Ben’s Cat will face a salty group Wednesday night that includes Tightend Touchdown, making a rare appearance on dirt following two starts in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint; River Rocks, beaten a length in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap two starts ago; and Strapping Groom, making just his second start since winning the Grade 3 Tom Fool in March.

The six-furlong Fabulous Strike is the last of three stakes on a 10-race card billed as the Penn National Winter Racing Festival. The other stakes on a program beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern are the $100,000 Swatara at 1 1/16 miles and the $75,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies for Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs.

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Ben’s Cat, 6 for 7 lifetime sprinting six furlongs on dirt, won last year’s Fabulous Strike by a half-length at 7-2 odds, tying his career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure. He will be seeking to snap a three-race losing streak and win for the first time since taking the Grade 3 Parx Dash on July 12.

River Rocks, who had been under consideration as a supplemental entry to either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile, instead stayed in New York, where he set the pace and faded to fourth as the even-money favorite in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap on Oct. 25. The loss snapped a streak of three consecutive triple-digit Beyers.

Strapping Groom, plagued by foot problems that prevented him from running during the summer at Saratoga and at the fall meet at Belmont Park, will be making his first start since April 5.


Ben’s Cat (Last 3 Beyers: 93-93-94)

◗ This is only the second time in the 44-race career of Ben’s Cat that he has lost three in a row. The other losing streak came between December 2010 and February 2011, all in races at seven furlongs or a mile. A year ago, Ben’s Cat was the beaten favorite in the Maryland Million Turf with an 87 Beyer prior to winning the Fabulous Strike for the second time. His last three Beyers indicate that he’s still a fast horse.

River Rocks (Last 3 Beyers: 96-101-107)

◗ This 4-year-old was extremely sharp in his first four starts since joining John Terranova in New York before regressing a month ago. It seems likely that he will be much lower than his listed price of 6-1.

Strapping Groom (Last 3 Beyers: 89-100-110)

◗ It is difficult to gauge how well this 7-year-old will perform off such a long layoff.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 10 Strapping Groom. Trainer David Jacobson is 30-2-4-4 with a $0.31 ROI over the past five years in dirt sprints following a layoff of 180 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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DRF FORMULATOR FACT: Over the past five years, high-percentage trainer David Jacobson is only 2 for 30 (7 percent) with dirt sprinters returning from breaks of more than 180 days, and he is winless in five starts in that category where the purses are $60,000 or higher.

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Tightend Touchdown (Last 3 Beyers: 95-90-98)

◗ This turf-sprint specialist will be racing on dirt for the first time since winning an optional claimer at Aqueduct in March 2013, and he is 5 for 11 in dirt sprints on fast tracks.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: Trainer Jason Servis is just 2 for 14 over the past five years with sprinters back in fewer than 30 days going from turf to dirt.

Bern Identity (Last 3 Beyers: 93-92-94)

◗ He returns just 11 days after a lackluster third-place finish in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 12 Bern Identity. Trainer Kelly Breen is 28-12-1-5 with a $3.17 ROI over the past two years in dirt sprints within 21 days of the previous start. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Weekend Hideaway (Last 3 Beyers: 87-89-97)

◗ This New York-bred ran his best races this season in restricted stakes company. He failed to fire in his first start off a freshening five weeks ago.

Stormin Monarcho in Swatara

New York shipper Stormin Monarcho comes back just 11 days after winning the inaugural Richard W. Small Stakes at Laurel in the Swatara (race 3). A 4-year-old gelding trained by Jacobson, Stormin Monarcho has recorded Beyers between 101 and 107 in five of his last eight starts.

His 10 rivals include the Chad Brown-trained Integrity, racing beyond a mile for the first time since May 2013, and Ground Transport, a stakes winner in Maryland and New York this season and a close third in the Grade 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows.

◗ Rockin Jojo, narrowly beaten in a race that produced three next-out winners, and Awesome Singer, a debut winner against open company at Parx Racing, are the leading contenders in the Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies (race 2).