04/04/2013 1:53PM

Pimlico: Ben's Cat seeks fourth straight Mister Diz victory

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Stuart Haman/Maryland Jockey Club
Ben's Cat will begin his 7-year-old campaign in Saturday's Mister Diz Stakes.

The millionaire Maryland-bred Ben’s Cat launches his 7-year-old campaign in the first of two turf stakes on Saturday’s card at Pimlico. The stakes mark the return of grass racing in the state.

Ben’s Cat, who has earned $1 million of his $1.3 million bankroll while compiling an 11-for-17 record on turf, will try to win the five-furlong Mister Diz for the fourth time in Saturday’s seventh race. He scored by 1 1/2 lengths while making his turf debut in the 2010 Mister Diz, took the off-the-turf edition of the stakes for Maryland-breds in 2011, and ran down pacesetter Steady Warrior to get up by a neck a year ago.

Owned and trained by King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat took the winter off following a head victory on the main track in the six-furlong Fabulous Strike at Penn National last Nov. 21. He came off a similar layoff to win last season’s Mister Diz. His string of workouts at Laurel include bullet half-mile breezes March 16 and March 23.

“He is coming into the race as well as he did last year," Leatherbury said. "He is very sound and is maintaining his condition. I have had some pretty good runners throughout the years but he has to be considered the best one I have trained. We should be one-two in the race and hopefully this is the start of another big year for him.”

Steady Warrior and Heros Reward, the 2009 winner of the Mister Diz, are among the seven rivals scheduled to challenge Ben’s Cat.

Steady Warrior, a combined 0 for 9 on turf and synthetic surfaces, earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure when he came off a five-month layoff to just miss to Ben’s Cat last April. That effort may have taken a lot out of him, however, as Steady Warrior did not finish better than fifth or post a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 70 in five subsequent starts.

Heros Reward has collected 12 wins on grass and bankrolled $1.1 million on the surface during his 56-race career. He took the 2009 Mister Diz by 1 1/4 lengths as the 1-5 favorite, but was eighth in 2010 and fifth last year. Now 11, Heros Reward has not hit the board in a stakes since finishing second in the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine in June 2011.

The most likely candidate to upset Ben’s Cat might be Night Officer, who closed to finish third, two lengths behind runner-up Ben’s Cat, in the six-furlong Laurel Dash last October. He is 3 for 9 racing on grass, but 0 for 4 at Pimlico. Night Officer’s trainer, Bruce Brown, shows a 3-for-13 record (23 percent) with runners returning in a turf sprint following a break of 61 to 180 days.

◗ Embarr and Julie’s Love, both of whom finished a close second in Grade 3 stakes last season, and Charged Cotton, winner of a restricted stakes, are among the logical contenders in a field of 12 fillies and mares in the $75,000 Dahlia (race 9).

The 5-year-old mares Embarr and Julie’s Love, along with the 4-year-old filly Charged Cotton, come into the one-mile Dahlia following long layoffs. But all three come from the barns of trainers who do well with long-absent turf runners.

Embarr, who finished 1 1/4 lengths behind the winner in last fall’s Grade 3 Athenia at Belmont, is trained by Susan Cooney. Her record with horses returning in a turf route following a break of 61 to 180 days is 3 for 8, including 2 for 23 with Embarr.

Graham Motion, trainer of Julie’s Love, is 4 for 22 (18 percent) with a $2.15 return on investment with long-layoff runners returning in a non-graded turf stakes. Julie’s Love closed out her 2012 campaign by missing by a head in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Charged Cotton, winner of the All Brandy at Laurel last September, is trained by Ignacio Correas. His record with horses returning from a break of 61 to 180 days in a turf route is 3 for 5. That includes a win by Charged Cotton last August at Delaware Park. As a Maryland-bred, she is eligible for a $25,000 bonus.

* The $50,000 Twixt Stakes failed to fill with only two fillies willing to face multiple stakes winner Walkwithapurpose. She will instead attempt to win her sixth consecutive race in the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct.