09/19/2013 5:30PM

Laurel: Ben's Cat opts for Turf Dash rather than De Francis

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Ben's Cat will be a short price in the $100,000 Turf Dash at Laurel Park on Saturday.

The connections of nine horses entered in the $100,000 Laurel Turf Dash got socked in the stomach Friday when trainer and part owner King Leatherbury told Laurel Park officials that Ben’s Cat would pass the De Francis Dash in favor of the Turf Dash.

Leatherbury had said Thursday he was 80-percent certain to run Ben’s Cat in the De Francis, a dirt race, but after looking at speed figures for the race, he opted for an easier spot Saturday, albeit one offering a purse smaller by $250,000. But Ben’s Cat is 4-5 on the morning-line for the Turf Dash, and has beaten horses like those he’ll face Saturday time and time again.

The 7-year-old gelding has won 22 of his 34 career starts, and he is 14-22 on grass and five for six at Laurel. His lone Laurel loss, however, happened to come in the 2012 edition of this race, though the 2012 Turf Dash was held at the end of October rather than in mid-September. Ben’s Cat breaks from post 12 Saturday but is tactically versatile. The two losses he has taken this season came with excuses major and minor: Ben’s Cat lost all chance because of a chain reaction on the turn of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup in June, while Leatherbury thinks his horse was a touch short of peak fitness when he rallied for a close third last out in the Turf Monster Parx Racing.

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The horses that finished in front of Ben’s Cat in the two losses are better than anything Ben’s Cat faces Saturday. Super Chunky looks like the second choice, but on their best day is not in the same league as Ben’s Cat.

The Turf Dash is one of six supporting stakes on the De Francis card.

Eagle Poise gets preferred distance in Turf Cup

Graham Motion both past and present has a place in the $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup.

Motion starts Eagle Poise in the 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup, and the 7-year-old gelding appears capable of moving forward into win contention making his second start back from a year-plus break. Among the competition is Lake Drop, who was a member of Motion’s stable when he last raced November 2012 in New York.

Since then, Motion and Team Valor Stables have parted ways, and Lake Drop, an Italian import, makes his first start under the care of Team Valor’s current U.S. trainer, Rick Mettee. Lake Drop failed to win in his four U.S. starts last summer and fall, but he ran decently in all of them, including a close, troubled fifth of 14 in the 2012 edition of the Turf Cup.

Eagle Poise’s best form is even further removed; He won a Grade 3 going 1 3/4 miles on Woodbine’s Polytrack in December 2011, and came within a nose of victory in going the same distance on turf in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano the following April. Eagle Poise returned to action at Saratoga last month, finishing an even third in the Idle Rich Stakes, a race that at 1 3/16 miles fell short of Eagle Poise’s optimal trip.

The Idle Rich runner-up, Atigun, also is among the 14 horses in the main body of the Turf Cup field. He, Tricky Hat, Royal Bench, and Irish import Cul Baire all might have a chance in a race where the favorite could go off as high as 7-2 or 4-1.

Motion has pair for Lady Baltimore

Motion goes two deep in the $100,000 Lady Baltimore, a grass race at 1 1/16 miles that drew 13 entrants; Namaskara could be a cut below the best in the race, but Strathnaver would have a solid chance on her best form.

Strathnaver’s best form, however, disappeared in her two most recent starts, a seventh in the May 25 Sheepshead Bay, and a no-show eighth in the Modesty Handicap on July 13 at Arlington. Strathnaver’s first two U.S. starts following her importation from England both produced performances that would put her in the thick of the Lady Baltimore finish.

Welcome Guest drew post 13 and never has raced on turf, but she has tactical speed to mitigate the wide draw and a pedigree suggesting her competitive dirt form could transfer to turf. Abaco and Embarr exit Saratoga races in which they faced one or more foes superior to anything in the Lady Baltimore.

Pair of 2-year-old races wide open

Contention appears to run deep in the pair of $100,000 turf-sprint stakes for 2-year-olds, the open Laurel Futurity and the female-restricted Selima.

Tiger Bourbon, Yes I’m Lucky, and Otoy are the major players in the Laurel Futurity, which got only seven entrants.

Chase My Tail, Fancy Boss, Pure Lady Like, Hot Squeeze, and even Weekends for Love all appear to have a chance in the Selima.

** The $100,000 Jameela, another turf sprint, is restricted to Maryland-breds, but it, too, has a full, playable field.