10/15/2013 1:18PM

Dick Jerardi: Ben's Cat bids for fourth Maryland Million victory

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
With no Turf Sprint on this year's Maryland Million program, Ben's Cat will either go a mile in the Turf or sprint on dirt.

They took away the grass sprint that Ben’s Cat has won three straight years on Maryland Million Day. Ben’s Cat, however, will still be there Saturday at Laurel Park, trying to become the first horse to win four Maryland Million races.

Ben’s Cat, now 7, is among 121 pre-entries for the nine Million races. The winner of 23 races, 15 stakes, and nearly $1.7 million was cross-nominated in the $100,000 six-furlong dirt sprint and the $125,000 turf mile. Trainer King Leatherbury, who never had a $1 million earner before Ben’s Cat and may soon have a $2 million earner in his barn, will take a look at both fields when entries are drawn Wednesday and make a decision where he wants to run his star.

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In addition to Ben’s Cat, nine other former Million Day winners were nominated, including 2012 winners Action Andy (Sprint), Roadhog (Turf), Pagan Priestess (Ladies), Varborough (Starter Handicap), and Motherload Hipster (Distaff Handicap).

Eleven older horses are nominated to the Classic, including 2011 champion Eighttofasttocatch. The 7-year-old Eighttofasttocatch, a son of dominant Million sire Not For Love, finished fifth last year as the favorite and is just 1 for 5 in 2013. But he did win the Henry Clark Stakes and was a strong second in the Pimlico Special on Preakness weekend. Eighttofasttocatch, trained by Tim Keefe, has won six stakes at Laurel.

The Maryland Million, conceived by the great broadcaster Jim McKay, has been run annually since 1986. For sons and daughters of Maryland-based stallions, the Million begat similar days in more than 20 states. Maryland-sired horses get nominated before they become 2-year-olds and stay eligible for life. So far, 222 stallions have been represented in Million races.

McKay was the Million chairman of the board until he passed away five years ago. Million Day remains one of the major days annually on the Maryland racing scene. Attendance has been more than 20,000 for 22 of the 27 Million days.

With Maryland racing now starting to come back as gaming revenue is accruing to purse accounts, Million Day is a perfect showcase for what the game could become again in a state with a tremendous tradition.

Breeders, similar to those in Pennsylvania, now get a 30 percent breeder bonus for Maryland-breds who finish first, second, or third in any race. There will also be a 10 percent stallion bonus.

The theory is that, given those incentives, breeders will once again start to foal horses in Maryland. And better stallions, so essential to the Million program, will once again stand in the state.

Orb’s sire Malibu Moon once stood in Maryland. The legendary Northern Dancer held court in Chesapeake City. Native Dancer lived at Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County horse country.

In fact, if you are ever near Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, do yourself a favor and stop by Glen Riddle, once the home of Man o’ War and War Admiral.

Two golf courses now stand where the great horses once roamed. Thankfully, the main barn is still there, restored and enclosing a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The photos take you back in time and you can imagine what it must have been like back in the day when maybe the greatest horse that ever lived and a Triple Crown winner were just a few miles west of what evolved into Maryland’s resort town on the Atlantic Ocean.

Big night at Charles Town

The adventurous can make the quick 75-mile trip from Laurel Park to Charles Town after the Maryland Million Classic. There, you can check out Saturday night’s West Virginia Breeders Classic program, anchored by the $500,000 Classic.

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg will be at Charles Town on Friday and Saturday selling and signing copies of his new biography. Van Berg was the first man to get to 5,000 winners and has more than 6,500 in his career, which was mostly spent in the claiming trenches until he got his hands on 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba, the colt who would be named Horse of the Year in 1988.

◗ High Point Thoroughbred Partners is closing on $1 million in earnings at Parx this year. The stable has started 90 horses, with 40 wins, 10 seconds, and 11 thirds.

◗ Owner Donna Eaton leads in money won at Penn National in 2013. She has started 148 horses at Penn this year with 24 wins, 28 seconds, and 20 thirds. Only Rock Bottom Stable, with 25, has more winners this year.