10/16/2014 12:52PM

Maryland Million Turf not ideal spot for Ben's Cat

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Barbara Weidl/Equi-Photo
King Leatherbury says he would prefer a distance shorter than a mile for Ben's Cat (9), but that the Maryland Million Turf is his best option for this weekend.

The $350,000 De Francis Dash on Nov. 15 offers by far the richest purse of the Laurel Park season. But to many, the true highlight of the fall season is Saturday’s Maryland Million Day card.

As per its name, the 11-race program offers a total of $1 million in purses. The principals on the card are Ben’s Cat, who will be shooting for an unprecedented fourth Maryland Million win; Roadhog, who has won the last two runnings of the Turf; and Eighttofasttocatch, who will be seeking his third Classic victory.

First post Saturday will be 12:15 p.m. Eastern. A number of horse-and hound-related exhibitions will be held between the races.

:: Maryland Million Day: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live

The premier matchup of the day is Ben’s Cat versus Roadhog. In last year’s Turf, Ben’s cat opened up a lead in the stretch in the one-mile race only to be run down by Roadhog and beaten a neck.

Ben’s Cat won the now-discontinued Turf Sprint three straight years, 2010-12. King Leatherbury, the owner-trainer-breeder of Ben’s Cat, considered the Turf, Sprint, and Sunday’s Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine but ultimately settled on the Turf.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers starting at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday

“The Woodbine race is out, too many issues involved,” Leatherbury said Thursday. “It came down to basic handicapping. He would have had to carry 123 in the Sprint. I can’t blame the handicapper for that, but there were some very live horses in there at 117 and 114. I’m making the best of what I have to choose from. I’m really not comfortable with it, but we’re planning to run.”

Excessive Drama was cross-entered in the Classic and is expected to run in that race.

Md. Million Turf, race 9

KEY CONTENDERS

Ben’s Cat (Last 3 Beyers: 93-95-98)

◗ A winner of 27 of 43 starts and $2.1 million, he finished third, beaten a length, in the Laurel Dash last time out. The 8-year-old’s effort has Leatherbury concerned.

“I’m worried about him a little bit,” he said. “I’m usually very optimistic when he runs, but his last race puzzles me. He appears to be in good shape but it was confusing to me. I have no excuse for him.”

◗ The mile is at the outer reaches of Ben’s Cat’s distance ability.

“A mile is not his game,” Leatherbury said. “He doesn’t want to go that far.”

Roadhog (Last 3 Beyers: 90-82-81)

◗ Trained by Elizabeth Merryman, he signaled his readiness for this three-peat attempt by finishing second in the Alphabet Soup Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds at Parx in his last start. The third-place finisher, Page McKenney, came back to win the open First Responder Stakes at Parx last Saturday. Now 7, Roadhog has won 10 of 35 career starts and $609,000.

Loves Last Chance (Last 3 Beyers: 82-76-68)

◗ A lightly raced 3-year-old trained by Graham Motion, he has won an allowance and a maiden race in his last two starts. This will be a big step up for him, but he is improving.