07/18/2017 5:51PM

Ben's Cat, 11, succumbs to colic complications

Barbara D. Livingston
Ben's Cat wins one of his five Jim McKay Turf Sprints.

Ben’s Cat, a popular runner in the Mid-Atlantic region and four-time Grade 3 winner, was euthanized Tuesday afternoon due to post-operative complications following colic surgery.

The 11-year-old gelding underwent surgery on July 6 at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., to repair an epiploic foramen entrapment – the displacement of a segment of small intestine through a small hole.

The surgery occurred about a week after retiring to Bayne and Chris Welker’s Spring Ridge Farm in Versailles Ky., at the end of an eight-year racing career. He raced his entire career as a Maryland homebred for Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury.

"I thought he had it licked," said Leatherbury. "I was bragging on him so. I said, 'Here's a winner. He beat the odds.' I've had it happen to a couple other horses and never had one survive. His granddam, it killed her. We had colic surgery done on her, and she died.

"It was devastating for me. It was a tragic end for a magnificent horse. It's hard to talk about. It really hit me hard. I was hoping for a nice life for him after all the running he did."

“I had loved Ben for years and was beyond grateful that Mr. Leatherbury entrusted me with his care,” Chris Welker said. “I am so thankful to the team at Hagyard for the round-the-clock care they provided Ben since his surgery nearly two weeks ago. Their efforts were incredible, but his medical issues became insurmountable. My heart is shattered, not only for Ben, but for Mr. Leatherbury, the team who took care of him day in and day out for years, and the fans who loved him.”

Ben’s Cat, a son of Parker’s Storm Cat, began his racing career at age 4, winning his debut at Pimlico for a $20,000 claiming price and rolling on to win his first eight starts. That streak included wins in the Maryland Million Turf Sprint, Mister Diz Stakes, and Find Handicap.

The hardy gelding raced seven or more times in all but his final campaign, compiling 32 wins in 63 starts and earning $2,643,782. He was a four-time Maryland Horse of the Year.

Ben’s Cat was perhaps known for his exploits in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes at Pimlico, which he won five times over the course of six years, from 2011 to 2016. His last win in the race came at age 10, where he split horses deep in the Baltimore stretch to get up by a neck. It was reminiscent of his 2015 victory, another heart-stopper, when he ran down Bold Thunder to stick a neck in front.

Ben’s Cat won 26 times in stakes company, including all six editions of the Mister Diz Stakes at Laurel Park from 2010 to 2015, three runnings of the Maryland Millions Turf Sprint, two renewals of the Laurel Dash Stakes, and one edition of the Find Stakes.

Though he is best known for his exploits in his native Maryland, Ben’s Cat earned all four of his graded stakes victories at Parx, taking the Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap in 2011 and 2012, and the Grade 3 Parx Dash Handicap in 2013 and 2014. He also won the 2012 Parx Dash prior to the race earning graded status.

Other stakes wins in Pennsylvania for Ben’s Cat included three editions of the Fabulous Strike Handicap and one running of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Handicap, both at Penn National.

Ben’s Cat made his 63rd and final start on June 24, finishing ninth in the Mister Diz Stakes in his eighth appearance. He struggled to regain the form he had managed to keep long after many his age had retired, missing the board in all three of his 2017 starts. Prior to the Mister Diz, her finished eighth in his seventh try at the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, ending his four-year winning streak.

Shortly after his last Mister Diz, Ben’s Cat was retired to the Welker’s farm, owned by longtime fans of the gelding who planned to give him some time off before planning the next chapter of his life, with possibilities including trail riding, jumping, or simply being a pasture horse.