12/03/2013 11:38AM

Dick Jerardi: Ben’s Cat a horse of a lifetime for Leatherbury

Barbara D. Livingston
Ben's cat now has 24 wins in 37 career starts, including 19 stakes victories. He has earned $1,862,640.

If King Leatherbury and his 6,409 wins aren’t going to get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame (and they absolutely should be considered), perhaps the committee can just get Ben’s Cat on the ballot when he retires – if he ever retires.

Like his trainer, Ben’s Cat seems to get better as he gets older. I could be wrong about this, but I think what Leatherbury and his horse of a lifetime are doing together is unprecedented.

What legendary trainer gets the best horse of his career as he is closing on 80? Well, Leatherbury is there now and Ben’s Cat, less than a month from turning 8, is as good as he has ever been.

If you have not seen it, watch the replay of Ben’s Cat’s win in the six-furlong Fabulous Strike Handicap on Nov. 27 at Penn National. It is a microcosm of his career. Give Ben’s Cat a target in the stretch and he will run it down.

Ribo Bobo was not just any target. The horse was 9 for 9 in 2013. He was loose on the lead. The wind was swirling. Snowflakes were falling. It was a surreal scene.

I stopped rooting a long time ago unless there was money involved. Staring at my computer screen, I could not believe I heard myself saying, “Come on, Ben.” But I did and, of course, he came on, stride by stride, slowly cutting into the margin. When Ben’s Cat started to get closer and closer, I knew the result. He was going to get there.

There just are not many horses like Ben’s Cat anymore, regional stars that, year after year, give fans a look back at what the sport once was.

Ben’s Cat now has 24 wins in 37 career starts. He has won 19 stakes. He has earned $1,862,640. He is a grass specialist – any kind of grass, firm, good, soft – but is every bit as good on the dirt and maybe even better on off tracks.

Ben’s Cat is stabled at Laurel Park where has run the most, 13 times. He has run nine times at Pimlico, six times each at Penn National and Parx Racing, twice at Delaware Park, and once at Aqueduct.

Ben’s Cat has been ridden by five different jockeys. Julian Pimentel has ridden the horse 25 times, including the last 14. Jeremy Rose got eight rides on Ben. Horacio Karamanos (2), Sheldon Russell, and Rosemary Homeister Jr. got the other rides.

The constant has been Leatherbury, who has managed the horse’s career brilliantly, generally starting him back each year in April at Pimlico and ending each November at Penn National, winding through the grass sprint stakes, the Maryland Million, and dirt races when grass season is done.

It will be so again in 2014 when Leatherbury brings Ben’s Cat back in April at Pimlico to try to win the Mister Diz Stakes for the fifth straight year and start on the course for $2 million in earnings.

If there is one regret, it is that Leatherbury did not supplement Ben’s Cat to the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs. After his contemporary Chamberlain Bridge won it the year before, it was clear Ben’s Cat was good enough to win. He still is.

The downhill course at Santa Anita is a different game where the home team has a great edge, but who knows? If Tightend Touchdown, a horse that Ben’s Cat ran down at Parx this summer, could finish second this year, Ben’s Cat could win it in 2014.

Dunkelberger hot at Charles Town

Jockey Travis Dunkelberger once won 394 races in a single year (2001). In his 20-year career, he has won 3,826 races and his mounts have earned more than $58.3 million. He is still riding in great form. Since Oct. 1 at Charles Town, he is 16 for 56.

Close trainers’ race at Parx

Patricia Farro and Ramon Preciado have broken clear of the field in the Parx trainers’ standings with a month to go in the season. One of them is going to win the title.

On Tuesday morning, Farro had 78 wins, Preciado 77. Could be some good betting opportunities if it is still close heading into the final week as both trainers are likely to give their horses their best chance to win.