06/10/2014 11:53AM

Jerardi: Ben’s Cat’s fourth in Jaipur was better than it looked

Tom Keyser
Ben's Cat (orange and white silks) finishes fourth in the Grade 3 Jaipur on June 7 at Belmont.

There were several Mid-Atlantic horses on the wonderful Belmont Stakes card with varying degrees of hope. None brought more hope to New York than the amazing Maryland-bred that is Ben’s Cat.

Owner-trainer King T. Leatherbury could have opted for the slightly easier spot in the $150,000 Governor’s Cup on May 31 at Penn National. Instead, Leatherbury went for the $300,000, Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational against some of the best grass sprinters in America, including Marchman and Undrafted.

If you saw just the result, you would probably think Ben’s Cat was a disappointment, finishing fourth in the six-furlong grass race. If, however, you watched the replay closely, you would see that Ben’s Cat was in tight from the beginning of the turn to the end of the turn. The horse was steadied going into the turn, steadied again midway through the turn, and had no real room to run at the head of the stretch.

When Ben’s Cat finally got clear, he did not have that customary Ben’s Cat finish, but that could have been due to the traffic issues on the turn. And it might just be that Undrafted is a freak at the distance, a horse good enough to run by the field and head next for the July Cup at Newmarket.

Undrafted ran the distance in a ridiculous 1:07.24. Ben’s Cat was beaten by 2 3/4 lengths, so it is not like he did not fire at all. He did. He just found trouble and was beaten by a very good horse.

Expect to see Ben’s Cat at Parx for the Parx Dash next month and the Turf Monster on Labor Day. Back in his comfort zone, Ben’s Cat will be very difficult to beat in those two races where we should also see repeat Governor’s Cup winner Tightend Touchdown.

Owner-breeder Paul Conaway had high hopes for his fast sprinter Favorite Tale in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, the race right after the Jaipur. He brought up a busload of 30 of his closest friends, expecting a big effort from the Parx-based horse that had won 4 of 5 starts, including the May 4 Gold Fever Stakes at Belmont.

Favorite Tale, sent off at 26-1, was not far off the lead until the turn when he started to retreat. The Pennsylvania-bred ended up finishing last, definitely not what the owner and his friends had envisioned.

Trainer Butch Reid sent Vero Amore up from Parx for the Grade 1 Acorn. The filly had nearly won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at 15-1, just getting edged out at the wire. The Acorn was even deeper water and the filly went off at 73-1. She did not fire and faded badly to finish 12th of 13.

Graham Motion sent Strathnaver from his Fair Hill base to run in the Grade 1 Just a Game. The mare ran brilliantly at 17-1, and Mike Smith was certain they had won the race – until the photo-finish camera said otherwise. Strathnaver lost by a nose to Coffee Clique. It was a brutal defeat in what would have been the biggest win of her career.

Somali Lemonade, also coming from Fair Hill for Michael Matz, finished third after leading into deep stretch. The 5-year-old mare had most recently won the Grade 3 Gallorette on the Preakness undercard.

Memories of Smarty

Speaking of Mid-Atlantic horses, it is actually hard to believe it has been a decade since the Smarty Jones Belmont Stakes heartbreak.

I watched the replay a few times last week. The result never changes.

The Preakness was probably Smarty’s best race, but the Belmont, in its own way, was equally amazing. Under all that pace pressure, the colt flew for a mile and a quarter, leaving really good horses like Purge, Rock Hard Ten, and Eddington floundering.

Smarty could not hold off Birdstone in the final yards, but I prefer to remember the journey. As we found out again last Saturday, this is not a sport that does happy endings. So, it is best to remember all the good times along the way.