03/26/2013 11:38AM

Dick Jerardi: Ben's Cat enables Leatherbury to get back into claiming game

Stuart Haman/Maryland Jockey Club
King Leatherbury has taken some of the bankroll compiled by stable star Ben's Cat to get back to claiming horses on the Maryland circuit.

King Leatherbury turned 80 on Tuesday. Three days before, his birthday was celebrated in a Laurel Park winner’s circle ceremony.

His career is not celebrated often enough. He accounts for 52 training titles between Laurel and Pimlico. He had four consecutive years of 300 or more winners in the mid-1970s. He is now back claiming horses again, so when he really should be retiring, he is battling for second in the Laurel standings.

“I stopped claiming for a while,” Leatherbury said. “I took some of that Ben’s Cat money and plunged into the claiming game again. And made some decent claims.”

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King was the King of claiming back in the day. He used speed figures before most people knew what they were. He found winning horses that others never even considered. He knew the business and treated it as a business.

“It’s tougher now,” Leatherbury said. “More people are claiming now. More people are going at it in a business-like manner.”

The increased Maryland purses are an incentive to keep playing.

“You can get a second and third now and then and pay expenses,” Leatherbury said.

Ben’s Cat is the King’s best horse. All that horse ever does is win races. He is 19 for 29 with $1,357,290 in earnings. He is 11 for 17 on grass with $1 million earned. He is also 8 for 12 on dirt.

The horse has won the Maryland Million Turf Sprint the last three years and the Turf Monster at Parx Racing the last two years. He also won the Mister Diz Stakes the last three years. Ben’s Cat will start his 2013 campaign on April 6 in the Mister Diz and then try for the big turf sprints at Penn National and Parx before going for a fourth consecutive Maryland Million win as a now 7-year-old gelding.

“That horse really rejuvenated me,” Leatherbury said.

The King is not among the finalists for the 2013 Hall of Fame class. That is not about winning because he has won 6,373 races. It is about the kinds of races he has won. And that, of course, comes from opportunity.

“My whole career I never had access to those kind of horses because I never had anybody buy yearlings for big money,” Leatherbury said.

He did win the Grade 1 Hempstead at Belmont Park with Catatonic in 1987 and the Grade 1 Iselin at Monmouth Park with Taking Risks.

Hall or no Hall, the King still loves the game.

“I don’t want to quit,” Leatherbury said. “I like doing this. As long as I survive, I’ll keep going.”

And he will keep winning.

Chris McCarron began his Hall of Fame career riding in Maryland. He rode many of his early winners for Leatherbury.

“I think King was the easiest person to ride for, especially of the big trainers,” McCarron said. “He was always so calm and collected, never really got over-excited. I don’t ever remember him in a bad mood, which is unusual because I know he likes to gamble a bit.

“I think the individuals involved in placing the names on the Hall of Fame nomination ballot need to wake up and examine his record. They don’t even have to dig deep on how incredibly successful this man has been.”

Montano far ahead at Charles Town

Jockey Jose Montano won 225 races in 2012. His mounts earned $3.6 million. As we get to end of the season’s first quarter, he is in position to duplicate those numbers. He easily leads the Charles Town standings with 50 wins and $800,000 in earnings. He has gotten 53 percent of his mounts in the money.

Ulrich winning half the time at Penn National

If an owner can win 15 percent of the time, he or she is doing well. Ronald Ulrich is second in the overall standings at Penn National with eight wins, but he has started just 16 horses. They have hit the board 73 percent of the time. Donna Eaton (13 winners) leads the owners’ standings.

Aristone on top again at Parx Racing

Trainer Phil Aristone has assumed his customary spot at the top of the Parx Racing standings. He has 23 winners and nearly $500,000 in earnings. Last year, he won 106 races. In 2011, it was 89. In 2010, it was 118. Looks like he is headed for another triple-digit win season.