10/26/2016 12:00PM

Leatherbury ponders whether it's time to retire Ben's Cat

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Barbara D. Livingston
Owner-trainer King Leatherbury was disappointed his 10-old-star Ben's Cat finished last in the Maryland Million Sprint.

You could still hear the disappointment in King Leatherbury’s voice two days after Ben’s Cat finished last in the Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel Park last Saturday. It’s never easy to accept that a horse who has been so good for such an extended period of time is slowing down, but it seemed there was even more to it than that.

Leatherbury had been pleased with how Ben’s Cat was training coming into the race, and the lackluster performance was frustrating and somewhat surprising to the Hall of Fame trainer.

“He has a few minor problems, but he’s okay,” Leatherbury said of the 10-year-old gelding. “He was not himself Saturday. He has just not been kicking on in his races.”

A key to Ben’s Cat’s longevity has been that Leatherbury, 83, turns him out on a farm each winter and lets him recharge.

“I’m going to have to make a decision on whether to turn him out for the winter or retire him,” Leatherbury said.

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Ben’s Cat has won 32 races and more than $2.6 million for Leatherbury, who bred and owns him. He showed signs of tailing off at the end of his 9-year-old season but started off strong this year, winning a no-conditions allowance turf sprint in May. He came out of that race to win the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time overall.

His third-place finish in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup was a good effort, but his form began to slide after that race. He was an even third in both the Grade 3 Parx Dash and the Maryland-bred Mister Diz, a race he had won the previous six years.

In his start prior to the Maryland Million, Ben’s Cat flattened out and finished fifth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in the $100,000 Laurel Dash.

“He’s a better horse than he’s shown in his last three to four races,” Leatherbury said. “His other races weren’t good, but he was competitive. The other day, he was horrible. It’s disappointing.”