10/15/2015 12:06PM

Ben's Cat, Talk Show Man change it up in Maryland Million

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Ben's Cat will run in the Maryland Million Sprint on Saturday at Laurel Park.

One of the highlights on the Maryland Million card a year ago came in the Turf. Ben’s Cat, trying to stretch out to a mile, ran a gutsy race but was run down late by Talk Show Man and beaten a half-length.

Both Ben’s Cat and Talk Show Man are back for Saturday’s Maryland Million at Laurel Park, but neither will be running in the Turf or, for that matter, on turf. King Leatherbury, the 82-year-old owner, trainer, and breeder of Ben’s Cat, has opted for the $100,000 Sprint. Trainer Hamilton Smith will run Talk Show Man in the $150,000 Classic at 1 1/8 miles.

The Maryland Million card includes seven restricted stakes and has a first post of 12:15 p.m. Eastern. Total purses on the day are $1 million. The 11 races will be streamed live on DRF.com.

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Ben’s Cat won the Maryland Million Turf Sprint in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The race was then shelved as it was becoming too difficult to round up enough Maryland-sired horses to run against him.

This understandably annoys Leatherbury, who in the past two years has had to run the most popular Maryland-based horse in training outside his comfort level. In 2013 and 2014, Leatherbury cross-entered Ben’s Cat in both the one-mile Turf and the six-furlong Sprint on the main track, sized up the competition, and then chose the Turf. Ben’s Cat finished second each time.


“The Turf is an easier spot, but it’s farther than he wants to go, and the true routers have beat me the last two years,” Leatherbury said. “The Sprint, I don’t know why because it is a restricted race, has been coming up tough. The last two years, it has gone in 1:08 and change and 1:09 and change.”

This past Tuesday, Leatherbury had pretty much settled on the Sprint as his race of choice but was still pondering the situation. On Wednesday, he entered Ben’s Cat only in the Sprint.

“I thought I might save a few bucks this year,” he said.

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On the surface, Ben’s Cat looks like a standout in the Sprint, and he has been made the 3-5 morning-line favorite. Still, he is 9, and some of his recent races have not been as sharp as a year ago.

Ben’s Cat also missed a planned workout last weekend due to weather and track conditions. He comes into the Sprint without a recorded work since his fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Turf Monster at Parx on Sept. 7.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s not a killer,” Leatherbury said. “He’s acting good, feeling good, training super.”

Talk Show Man is the 5-2 morning-line choice in the Classic despite having drawn the outside post. He started his career on the main track but has made 11 of his last 13 starts on grass. He is 3 for 12 on turf and 3 for 11 on dirt. He won his most recent dirt race, a fourth-level optional-claiming race going a mile at Laurel last March.

“I’m not worried at all about running him on dirt,” Smith said. “He seems to handle both surfaces the same.”

Phlash Phelps is cross-entered in the Turf and is expected to run in that race. Bullheaded Boy and Regal Soldier also are cross-entered in other Maryland Million races.