09/26/2012 2:11PM

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint: Leatherbury weighs supplement for Ben's Cat

Alyssa Spakowski/Equi-Photo
Ben's Cat must be supplemented at a cost of $100,000 in order to run in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Earlier this month, and for the second consecutive year, Ben’s Cat won the Turf Monster Handicap at Parx Racing, a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race that guarantees the victor a position in the starting gate in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. But for the second consecutive year, Ben’s Cat may just stay home.

The problem? Ben’s Cat is not Breeders’ Cup nominated. With his victory in the Turf Monster, the 6-year-old gelding would have his entry fees waived, and he also earned a $10,000 travel stipend. But his owner/trainer, King Leatherbury (The Jim Stable, the gelding’s listed owner, is Leatherbury’s own), would still have to pay a $100,000 supplemental fee to run in the Breeders’ Cup. Last year, when in the exact same situation, Leatherbury opted to eschew the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and instead run in the $67,000 Laurel Dash a week prior, a race Ben’s Cat won as the odds-on favorite. He has yet to decide what he’ll do this year, but Leatherbury does seem to be leaning against putting the Maryland-based son of Parker’s Storm Cat on a flight to California.

“That’s an even bigger challenge than last year, when it was right there in Kentucky,” said Leatherbury, who earned the first of his 6,349 career wins as a trainer in 1959. “That’s another problem. But it’s the same situation as last year – I still have to come up with $100,000, and I don’t know if it’s worth it. I’m certainly not guaranteed to run first or second in the Breeders’ Cup. Right now, I can’t see it, but I’m not 100 percent certain yet, either. I mean, I’ve got some spots for him coming up where I’m going to be 4-5. They’re for a lot less money, but it’s a better shot.”

One of those races is likely to be the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint on Oct. 6, but a start there doesn’t preclude Ben’s Cat from making the Breeders’ Cup. In fact, it could be what gets him there.

“He won it last two years, and for him to win it three years in a row would be some sort of record that I’d be proud of,” Leatherbury said. “I can run in that race and still run in the Breeders’ Cup.”

This year’s edition of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is at 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill course at Santa Anita. At first glance, it would seem that Ben’s Cat would be at a disadvantage at that distance as most of his success has come in shorter races. But Leatherbury disputes that notion. In fact, he believes the added ground helps Ben’s Cat.

“He’s won going long, actually, but I decided he’s a better sprinter, and that’s what the sprints around here are, 5 1/2 furlongs, and some even five furlongs,” he said. “Stretching him out to 6 1/2 furlongs might be in his favor.”

In 2011, Leatherbury entertained the idea of securing a sponsor to either cover or help defray the costs, but “that didn’t go very far,” he said.

This year?

“No one has approached me,” he said. “It’s not a very good deal for them, and it’s not a good deal for me as a business deal. Now, in terms of it being for sport? Of course, I have interest in running in the Breeders’ Cup, but in order to do that I have to put the money up, and I’m still trying to figure that out.”