10/01/2011 2:19PM

Laurel: Eighttofasttocatch scores as favorite in Maryland Million Classic

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Sheldon Russell, who won last year's Maryland Million Classic aboard Regal Solo, takes this year's edition with Eighttofasttocatch.

Eighttofasttocatch collected his third stakes victory of the season in the Maryland Million Classic, the richest of 11 races for the offspring of Maryland-based stallions on Saturday's 26th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million card at Laurel Park.

Third in last year’s Turf, Eighttofasttocatch has flourished since focusing on dirt races this season. He won the Harrison Johnson Memorial, posting a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure, in March, and then snapped a three-race losing streak three weeks ago by dominating the one-mile Japan Racing Association.

In Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile, $150,000 Classic, contested during rain that turned Laurel’s main track from fast to good, Eighttofasttocatch and jockey Sheldon Russell stalked in second behind the six-furlong pace of 1:12.10 set by Regal Warrior. The 5-year-old Eighttofasttocatch wrested the lead from Regal Warrior approaching the stretch, opened up by 1 1/2 lengths and increased that margin to 1 3/4 lengths at the finish despite drifting in slightly inside the sixteenth pole.

It was also the second year in a row that Russell had won the Classic. Last year he guided Regal Solo to victory in the Million’s signature race.

“The key is to get him to relax,” Russell said. “Mud doesn’t bother him because he’s run well on it before. I was a little concerned because the speed horse didn’t break, but it worked out. I got him to switch off and then he came back running. I was lucky that way. Since they’ve taken the blinkers off of him he’s been very hard to beat.”

Tim Keefe trains Eighttofasttocatch, who has won seven times at Laurel.

“This was our ‘A’ race,” said Keefe. “He’s been training like a good horse. We’ve worked hard on getting him to track the speed and today that turned out perfect. The five post didn’t hurt us either. He really finished down the lane. This horse loves Laurel Park. The older he gets the better he’s become.”

In winning for the eighth time in 28 lifetime starts, Eighttofasttocatch ($3.60) completed the distance in 1:50.65.

Cactus Charlie finished second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Not Abroad, the 5-2 second choice in a field of seven.

Ben's Cat tunes up for BC Turf Sprint

Ben’s Cat tuned up for a prospective start in next month’s Breeders’ Cup by scoring a repeat victory in the Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

The 5-year-old Ben’s Cat ($3) won by a length over the 3-year-old Steady Warrior, who fought the winner all the way to the finish line. The winning time for 5 1/2 furlongs on a course rated good was 1:06.07.

“I got afraid that we might get upset but Jeremy Rose wasn’t worried,” said King Leatherbury, the breeder, owner, and trainer of Ben’s Cat. “He said he knew he had the horse but the other horse was very reluctant to get beat.”

Ben’s Cat, who did not begin racing until last year because of a broken pelvis, won for the 13th time in 18 starts, including eight stakes victories. His lifetime earnings are now $733,230.

“It was a pretty easy race,” Rose said. “We broke sharp today. At the last race we had a spat in the gate and I was concerned about today, but this time he broke better than usual and I thought that I had it won every step of the race.”

Ben’s Cat 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. However Ben’s Cat is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, so Leatherbury is looking for an investor to flip the bill on the $100,000 supplemental fee.

“We will start to get more serious on it now and see what we can do,” Leatherbury said.

“He is one of the best three horses that I have ever ridden, said Rose, who won the 2005 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes aboard Afleet Alex. “He certainly deserves a shot at the Breeders’ Cup.”

Leatherbury is now tied atop the Maryland Million trainer standings with nine victories, the same as Dale Capuano.

In the other Maryland Million races:

* The 5-year-old mare Love’s Blush ($11.20), second in this same race a year ago, ended a seven-race losing streak by posting a 3 1/2-length victory in the $100,000 Ladies, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

It was the third victory of the afternoon for progeny of Not For Love, who now has a Maryland Million-leading 24 victories from his offspring.

* Sloane Ranger ($6.60) held off last year’s Classic winner Regal Solo by a half-length in the $100,000 Sprint at six furlongs. Trainer Martin Ciresa said the 5-year-old Sloane Ranger, ridden by Horacio Karamanos, could run next in the $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Oct. 22.

* Pocket Patch ($15) had few problems repeating as champion of the $100,000 Turf, prevailing by 4 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile race contested on yielding ground.

Pocket Patch, ridden by Forest Boyce, began his 2011 campaign with a victory in the Henry Clark Stakes at Pimlico but had lost five subsequent starts.

“We followed the same thing we did last year,” said trainer Flint Stites. “The key is to get him to relax and settle and he did that well. I told Forest ‘Don’t drop his head’ and she followed that well. It set up perfect for him because he likes soft turf.”

* Brushed by Love ($4.80) drew clear in the stretch to score by 2 1/4 lengths under Julian Pimentel in the $100,000 Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

* Bluegrass Atatude ($11.40), ridden by Jorge Chavez, scored a three-length victory in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. A daugher of Two Punch, Bluegrass Atatude is trained by John Salzman Jr., who has saddled the first 2-year-old winner in Maryland for three consecutive years.

* The pacesetter Love That Dance ($5.40) held off Silver Heart by a head to take the $100,000 Distaff, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares. Ridden by Pablo Fragoso for trainer Ben Perkins Jr., Love That Dance earned her second Maryland Million win. She took the Oaks as a 3-year-old in 2009 and was second in last year's Distaff.

*Glib ($12.80), a 7 1/4-length winner in his career debut at Charles Town in late August, cruised to a 4 1/2-length win in the $100,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds. Ridden by Eric Camacho for trainer John Robb, Glib ran the six furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.95.

* The 5-year-old mare Call of a Lion ($12.80) made it three wins in a row since she was re-claimed by trainer Charles Frock for $5,000 last January when she rallied from eighth turning into the stretch to get up by a nose over longshot On Board Charade in the $50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap at one mile.

* Shordawatyadrink ($6) overtook pacesetter Swallow the Field to post a half-length victory in the $50,000 Starter Handicap at one mile.