11/25/2013 9:42AM

Penn National: Ben's Cat meets Ribo Bobo in Fabulous Strike Handicap

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Ben's Cat (inside) beats Immortal Eyes in the inaugural running of the Fabulous Strike Handicap last November at Penn National.

A month ago, King Leatherbury didn’t want Ben’s Cat to face the white-hot sprinter Ribo Bobo at Laurel Park, the home base of Ben’s Cat. Leatherbury, however, is now willing to allow Ben’s Cat to challenge Ribo Robo, a winner of nine straight races, on the road at Penn National in Wednesday’s $250,000 Fabulous Strike Handicap.

Ben’s Cat, whose best surface is turf, will make his first start on dirt since winning the inaugural Fabulous Strike a year ago in the richest of four stakes on the Thanksgiving Eve card at Penn National. The Fabulous Strike goes at 7:22 p.m. Eastern as the last leg of an all-stakes pick four that begins the 10-race program at 6.

Leatherbury, the breeder, owner, and trainer of Ben’s Cat, said he has no regrets about scratching his 7-year-old millionaire from the Maryland Million Sprint, which Ribo Bobo dominated by 5 3/4 lengths, in favor of the one-mile Maryland Million Turf, even though his horse lost by a neck as the heavy favorite.

“I had another choice that day,” he said. “Ben’s Cat is a turf horse, but he’s just as good on dirt. Turf season is about over, and I would like to run him once more and then give him the winter off. This race is the one that’s the most logical, so I’m going to run.”

Leatherbury said he is convinced that he did the right thing by avoiding the front-running Ribo Bobo last time, but he has a reason to believe Ben’s Cat has a better chance in the Fabulous Strike, based on his interpretation of the handicapping sheets he uses.

“Ribo Bobo just exploded,” Leatherbury said, referring to the Maryland Million Sprint, in which Ribo Bobo recorded a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure. “I wouldn’t have beaten him that day. If he does that again, he’s unbeatable. But he ran much faster than he ever did before in that race. If he reacts to that big effort and runs a more typical race, I have a good shot to beat him.”

Jason Servis, the trainer of Ribo Bobo, said he is confident, based on how well his horse ran in his only previous visit to Penn National, an 11-length romp in June.

“One of the reasons that we came for the race is that he ran so well at Penn National earlier this year,” Servis said. “His last few races, he has beat some really good horses, and his win in the Maryland Million was terrific.”

The seven-horse field also includes Kentucky shipper Good Morning Diva, third going a one-turn mile in a pair of Grade 3 events this season, and the 3-year-old City of Weston, who upset the Grade 3 Gallant Bob at 30-1 two starts ago.

◗ Suns Out Guns Out, who was within a half-length of the leader in deep stretch of the 1 3/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Marathon before fading to fourth, cuts back sharply in distance for the $150,000 Swatara. Two starts ago, Suns Out Guns Out romped going a flat mile at Parx, so the 1 1/16-mile Swatara is well within his comfort zone.

The well-balanced lineup includes Taptowne, the runner-up in the Grade 3 Ack Ack two starts ago; Saratoga Snacks, a winner in 3 of his last 4 starts, all against New York-breds; Ponzi Scheme, a close third in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup; and the 3-year-old Edge of Reality, the winner of the Grade 3 Smarty Jones on Labor Day.

◗ Nikkis Smartypants, the winner of the Grade 3 Royal North in July, races on dirt for the first time following eight starts on either Polytrack or turf in the $150,000 Lady in Waiting for fillies and mares going six furlongs.

Other logical contenders include Five Star Momma, a winner of her last two starts in New York by a combined 11 lengths; Sweet Cassiopeia, a turf sprinter who ran second while making a rare start on dirt in the Open Mind at Churchill; and multiple stakes winner Ann’s Smart Dancer, who narrowly missed in last month’s Maryland Million Distaff.

◗ Gracer, third in the Grade 2 Matron, figures to go favored when she adds blinkers while facing seven other Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old fillies in the $75,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies at six furlongs.