04/21/2015 12:30PM

Leatherbury makes even-money look good

Barbara D. Livingston
King Leatherbury, 82, will be the third-oldest living trainer inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It appears that getting onto the Hall of Fame ballot was tougher for King Leatherbury than actually being voted into the Hall.

On Monday, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named Leatherbury one of this year’s four inductees. This was the first time the 82-year-old Leatherbury had been nominated.

Leatherbury will be the third-oldest living trainer inducted into the Hall of Fame, following Carl Hanford (89) and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (84), according to the National Museum of Racing.

When it was announced in early March that he was a finalist, Leatherbury downplayed his chances. Privately, though, he was handicapping the vote just like he would a horse race.

“I didn’t want to pick myself,” he said. “But the way I looked at it is there were four horses, four riders, and two trainers, and nobody would pick all from one category, so most people, I thought, would pick one of each. That kind of made me even-money on the morning line. Then again, I thought, ‘How many times have I run an even-money shot and not won?’ ”

In the final tally, Leatherbury was voted into the Hall because of his credentials. He is fourth all time among North American-based trainers with 6,454 wins and led the nation in wins in both 1977 and 1978. Leatherbury was one of the big four during the heyday of Maryland racing, along with Buddy Delp, Richard Dutrow Sr., and John Tammaro Jr.

Leatherbury has won 52 training titles in his home state – equally split between Pimlico and Laurel Park – plus four at Delaware Park. He also bred three of his best horses – Ah Day (earner of $921,000), Thirty Eight Go Go ($871,000), and Ben’s Cat, who has so far earned $2.3 million.

“I think Ben’s Cat played a big part in my being nominated,” Leatherbury said. “He kind of brought my name back. I’d kind of dwindled. I used to have 60 horses, but I’m down to 14 now. I’m not running nearly as often.”

Leatherbury has a busy social calendar this summer. In addition to being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 7, he will be front and center at the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Association awards dinner May 28, when Ben’s Cat will be honored with an unprecedented fourth straight Maryland-bred Horse of the Year crown in addition to divisional titles as champion older male, turf horse, and sprinter.

On May 14 at Pimlico, Leatherbury will speak on Ben’s Cat’s behalf at the Alibi Breakfast because Ben’s Cat has been named this year’s Honorary Preakness Postmaster.

“I’m going to have to save some material so I don’t start repeating myself,” Leatherbury said. “Bud Delp was named postmaster one year, and I remember kidding him, ‘Is that the best award you can win, postmaster?’ Now I’m the postmaster.”

Xtra Heat completed a Maryland double on Monday when she also was voted into the Hall of Fame.

Xtra Heat, a 1998 daughter of Dixieland Heat, was purchased for $5,000 as a yearling at the Timonium sale in Maryland by trainer John Salzman Sr. and partners Ken Taylor and Harry Deitchman. She went on to win 26 of 35 starts and more than $2.3 million. She was based at Laurel Park throughout her career and won 10 of her 11 starts in Maryland.

Xtra Heat was named the champion 3-year-old filly of 2001 after going 9 for 13 and finishing second to males in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.