09/29/2011 4:50PM

Laurel: Ben's Cat faces just six challengers as favorite in Maryland Million Turf Sprint

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Ben's Cat, winning the Grade 3 Turf Monster last time out, is 4-5 o the morning line for the Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

Only six challengers are willing to face defending champion Ben’s Cat in the $100,000 Turf Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs (race 2, part of the 11-race Maryland Million program Saturday at Laurel Park. The 5-year-old Ben’s Cat is 3 for 3 on Laurel’s turf course and 4 for 5 lifetime sprinting on grass, but must spot his rivals nine to 12 pounds as the 123-pound highweight.

Ben’s Cat, 12 for 18 lifetime since belatedly beginning his career last season following a long recuperation from a broken pelvis, captured the Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap at Parx Racing on Labor Day, which earned him an automatic berth into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. Ben’s Cat, however, is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, so breeder-owner-trainer King Leatherbury is looking for an investor to pick up the bill on the $100,000 supplemental fee.

“It is still out there but I haven’t heard anything serious,” said Leatherbury, who has eight Maryland Million winners. “I guess folks are waiting until after this race.”

In the other Maryland Million races:

◗ Defending champion Blind Date and 2009 Maryland Million Oaks winner Love That Dance meet for the third consecutive year on Maryland Million Day in the $100,000 Distaff Handicap (race 4). Love That Dance got up by a head going a mile two years ago, but Blind Date turned the tables by a half-length in the seven-furlong Distaff in 2010.

“I would think both those fillies will run well Saturday,” said Blind Date’s trainer, Hamilton Smith. In hindsight, Smith said he regrets racing Blind Date over her head in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park, a race in which she finished last.

“Blind Date is doing fine," Smith said. "We made a mistake by running at Monmouth Park, but she has worked well since with two straight bullet works.”

◗ Defending champion Sweet Nenana, 2010 runner-up Love’s Blush, and last year’s Oaks winner Baltimore Belle are among 11 fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on turf in the Ladies (race 7).

My Sweet Nenana produced the largest win mutuel ($119) in Maryland Million history with her upset score a year ago. Dane Kobiskie claimed the 5-year-old mare for $25,000 on Sept. 16, specifically for this spot.

“There were three other people besides myself who had the same idea,” said Kobiskie of My Sweet Nenana, the 7-2 morning line favorite. “I would have rather had four weeks with her but we’ll see what we can do.”

◗ The long-idle Regal Solo looks for his third Maryland Million victory while cutting back sharply in distance to six furlongs for the $100,000 Sprint Handicap (race 8). He won the 2007 Nursery and 2010 Classic but has not run since that victory one year ago.\

Regal Solo is trying to become just the fifth horse to win three Maryland Million races and the first to score in three different races.
Regal Solo captured the 2007 Nursery while in Linda Albert’s barn. A year ago, he won the Maryland Million Classic by 1 /4 lengths for trainer Damon Dilodovico. However, that was the last start for Regal Solo, who has experienced foot problems during his career.

“It’s nothing major," said Dilodovico, who has five career Maryland Million victories. "We’ve had him so close a number of times during the year, going back to Preakness week. We get a quarter crack or an abscess."

The 6-year-old Regal Solo has 7 wins and 16 in-the-money finishes in 24 career races for earnings of $362,340.

“We have a lot of confidence in him sprinting,” Dilodovico said. “When we get his feet good he’s actually a push-button horse. He’ll do whatever. I’m very comfortable being in the sprint. Maybe not as comfortable coming off a year layoff. I think we have a shot. We’re not without a chance.”

◗ Defending champion Pocket Patch and 2009 winner Target Sighted meet for the first time in the $100,000 Turf (race 9) at 1 1/8 miles.

Pocket Patch began his 2011 campaign with a victory in the Henry Clark Stakes at Pimlico but has not won since.

“He had a really good start to the year but we ran at Colonial when it was like 110 degrees and it kind of knocked him out a little,” said Pocket Patch’s trainer, Flint Stites. “Then we had some trouble getting him  on the turf. The last couple weeks he has been coming around and is peaking at the right time.”

◗ Love’s Reason, beaten a mere half-length as the third-place finisher in last year’s Lassie, heads a group of six 3-year-old fillies in the one-mile Oaks (race 1).

◗ Good Looking Girl, fourth in the Grade 2 Matron at Belmont, is the lone two-time winner among 15 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs in the $100,000 Lassie (race 3).

◗ Jack’s in the Dark, winner of the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont in July, stands out among 13 2-year-olds going six furlongs in the $100,000 Nursery (race 6).

◗ Call of a Lion, 2 for 2 since she was claimed out of a winning effort for $5,000 in January, merits a slight edge over recent starter allowance winner Star Money in the $50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap at one mile (race 5).

◗ Saintly Love and Shordawatyadrink, both coming off victories in starter allowances, and Swallow the Field, second in a second-level allowance two starts ago, bring good form into the $50,000 Starter Handicap at one mile (race 11).

HRTV will have a live presence for the entire card with hosts Caton Bredar and Dick Jerardi on site.