06/27/2017 11:55AM

Ben's Cat retired from racing at age 11

Barbara D. Livingston
Ben's Cat, 11, has been retired from racing and will spend his retirement on a Kentucky farm.

In sports, nothing lasts forever, but for a number of years it seemed as if Ben’s Cat, the pride of Maryland, just might. Now 11, and a step or two slower than he used to be, King Leatherbury has made the decision to retire him.

Leatherbury bred and owns the Maryland-bred gelding. He trained him through eight seasons on the racetrack.

A son of Parker’s Storm Cat out of the Thirty Eight Paces mare Twofox, Ben's Cat concludes his career with 32 wins from 63 starts. He won 26 stakes, more than $2.6 million, and leaves behind a legion of fans that he thrilled time and time again.

"I feel bad about stopping on him because he still likes what he does and I still like sending him out there," Leatherbury said Tuesday morning. "It's a shame, but as a trainer you only have so many excuses. The bottom line is he's just not getting anything anymore."

Ben's Cat finished ninth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths, last Saturday at Laurel Park in the Mister Diz Stakes, a race he won six consecutive years from 2010-15. In three starts this year, Ben's Cat didn't race terribly but was lacking the late run that had become his hallmark.

Ben's Cat didn't make his first start until he was 4 in 2010. He would race in the Mid-Atlantic each year from spring until fall and then spend his winters recouping on a Maryland farm.

Leatherbury would follow the same series of stakes with him each season, and Ben's Cat would almost always deliver in the most unpredictable division in racing – sprinting on turf.

"When he was in his prime, I was so confident every time he would run," Leatherbury said. "He just kept winning."

Ben's Cat won the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico five of six years between 2011 and 2016. He won the Grade 3 Parx Dash three consecutive years from 2012-14 and the Maryland Million Sprint three straight times from 2010-12 before he ran out of competition and the race was dropped from the schedule.

Possibly more remarkable, Ben's Cat concluded his 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons by switching from turf to dirt and winning the $250,000 Fabulous Strike Stakes under the lights at Penn National.

Ben's Cat's stakes wins also include two editions of the Grade 3 Turf Monster at Parx Racing, two runnings of the Laurel Dash, and the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National. In 2010, his first season of competition, he won the Find Stakes at Laurel Park going 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Ben's Cat was the Maryland-bred Horse of the Year for four consecutive years, from 2011 to 2014. No other horse has been voted the award more than twice in a row.

Leatherbury, 84, is the fifth-winningest trainer in Thoroughbred history with 6,485 victories. He credits Ben's Cat for his 2015 induction into racing's Hall of Fame.

"I had a great run but when you get older you don't get the owners like you used to, they go to younger trainers," Leatherbury said. "Ben came along when I was dying out. He kept me rolling and he got me into the Hall of Fame. He got the attention of the nominators and the voters. I'm sure of it."

According to Georganne Hale, the director of racing for the Maryland Jockey Club, Laurel Park intends to hold a celebration of Ben's Cat's career this fall.

Ben's Cat will spend his retirement on the farm of Christina Welker in Versailles, Ky. Welker is married to Bayne Welker, the vice president of sales for Fasig-Tipton. Ben's Cat left for his new home Wednesday evening.

"Mrs. Welker comes to the Preakness every year, and she always tells me that when he is ready to retire that she'd love to have him," Leatherbury said. "I called her last night and said, 'This is the call you've been waiting for.' "

Welker said she fell in love with Ben's Cat five years ago. She wrote Leatherbury a letter 2 1/2 years ago asking that he consider sending Ben's Cat to her farm when he retired. Welker said she is good friends with Hale, who helped make the arrangements.

The Welkers' farm is a commercial breeding operation. The farm is 75 acres and home to 25 horses. "Everybody has plenty of room," Welker said.

Ben's Cat is not the first off-the-track Thoroughbred the Welkers' have had. Pickin N Singin, a son of Unbridled's Song who made five starts in 2009, had a successful career in the show ring for Welker and lives at the farm.

"Ben might find his way to some local things too," Welker said. "I'll figure out what he wants, and we'll let him do those things. If he wants to go for trail rides or be a hunter/jumper, he'll have the chance. It's time for The Cat to be treated like a king, no pun intended."

Welker said she would welcome visitors to the farm to see Ben's Cat.

"We're a working farm but if people want to come by to see him, we'll try to accommodate them," she said. "They can just call us up and we'll arrange something."