04/05/2012 10:35AM

Pimlico: Ben's Cat gets season going in Mister Diz

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Ben's Cat, here winning the Mister Diz Stakes last year, makes his first start in 4 1/2 months in the 2012 Mister Diz.

Is Ben’s Cat ready to pick up where he left off last year, when he established himself as one of the top turf sprinters on the East Coast? Based on his two most recent workouts, it certainly appears so.

Now 6, Ben’s Cat returns after a break of 4 1/2 months to face five other Maryland-breds in Saturday’s $75,000 Mister Diz, the first turf stakes of the season at Pimlico. He prepped for his comeback with a pair of bullet four-furlong workouts in the identical time of 48 seconds over the main track at Laurel Park.

Ben’s Cat is already a two-time winner of the five-furlong Mister Diz, scoring by 4 1/2 lengths when it was contested at six furlongs on Laurel’s turf course in August 2010 and finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front when last year’s edition was shifted from turf to Pimlico’s main track. Overall last season, Ben’s Cat won 6 of 11 starts, including turf sprint victories in the Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap at Parx and the $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup at Penn National.

“He keeps amazing me,” said owner-trainer King Leatherbury. “I never thought he would get this good. He kept getting better and better and has never stopped.”

Ben's Cat had to recover from a broken pelvis before he made his maiden debut at age 4, and then began his career with eight consecutive victories, including five on the main track.

“It took me a long time to come to a conclusion to what was his best race,” Leatherbury said. “Was he a sprinter? Could he go long or was he better on the turf or dirt? I finally decided early last year that his best race was a sprint on the turf. He made me look good.”

Leatherbury, 79, who ranks third on racing's all-time list of trainers with 6,337 victories, said he intends to follow a similar schedule with Ben's Cat as last year. He will point Ben's Cat to the Jim McKay Turf Sprint on Preakness eve, the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National, the Turf Monster and Parx Dash in suburban Philadelphia, and the Maryland Million Turf Sprint.

During his long career, Leatherbury has trained two Grade 1 winners (Catatonic and Taking Risks), saddled four Preakness runners, and saddled graded stakes winners Ameri Valay, Learned Jake, Dynamic Trick. and Ah Day.

“I have never had a horse like this,” said Leatherbury of Ben's Cat, a son of Parker's Storm. “He is by an unknown sire. In fact they thought so little of him that they sold him and now he stands in Washington. This is one of those things you hit every now and then.”

With regular rider Jeremy Rose sidelined with a dislocated shoulder, Horatio Karamanos picks up the mount on Ben's Cat on Saturday. Rose's agent, Kid Breeden, said he hopes his rider will be back aboard Ben’s Cat in the $100,000 Jim McKay on May 18.

The two most logical alternatives to Ben’s Cat are the millionaire old-timer Heros Reward and the 4-year-old Steady Warrior, who has never won on turf.

The 10-year-old Heros Reward has bankrolled $1.2 million during a career in which he has gone 11 for 36 on grass. His last win on the surface, however, came in the 2009 Mister Diz. He was badly beaten twice by Ben’s Cat in back-to-back starts in 2010 and was 0 for 4 on turf in 2011, although in one of those defeats he was beaten a mere 1 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine.

Although Steady Warrior is 0 for 2 on turf, he is intriguing because last fall he finished second, beaten one length by Ben’s Cat in the Maryland Million Turf Sprint. Steady Warrior has been idle since finishing last of six, more than 22 lengths behind Ben’s Cat over a sloppy track in the Laurel Dash last Oct. 29. He will race without blinkers for the first time in an 11-race career in which he has won stakes in Delaware and West Virginia.

The field also includes Delaunay, a 5-year-old gelding who has been claimed out of his last four starts. His latest trainer, Dane Kobiskie, scratched Delauney out of an allowance on Thursday's card in favor of the Mister Diz. Delaunay has won back-to-back races on dirt by a combined margin of 11 1/2 lengths.