Updated on 04/08/2011 7:37AM

Pimlico turf stakes get going

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Ben's Cat, winning last summer's Mister Diz, will try to defend his title and extend his perfect record on turf to 4 for 4.

Ben’s Cat and Heros Reward, the winners of the past two runnings of the Mister Diz Stakes, will square off for the third time since last August when the five-furlong, $75,000 turf sprint for Maryland-breds shifts from summer to spring Saturday at Pimlico.

Formerly run in July, August, or early September since 1994, the Mister Diz is now part of Pimlico’s spring stakes package and the first scheduled grass stakes of the season in Maryland.

Although Heros Reward is a seven-time stakes winner in turf sprints, including the 2009 Mister Diz, the Grade 2 Nearactic, and the Grade 3 Shakertown, he was trounced by the much younger Ben’s Cat twice last season. As a 4-year-old in 2010, Ben’s Cat made his turf debut in the Mister Diz last Aug. 21 and scored by 1 1/2 lengths, as Heros Reward faded to eighth as the 7-5 favorite.

The outcome wasn’t much different on Oct. 2, when Ben’s Cat cruised to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap, seven lengths in front of Heros Reward.

Now 9, Heros Reward will be making his first start since that defeat while seeking to snap an eight-race losing streak that began after he won the 2009 Mister Diz. The last time Heros Reward raced following such a long layoff, he finished third in last May’s Turf Sprint at Pimlico.

Ben’s Cat, seeking to snap a three-race losing streak after beginning his injury-delayed career with eight straight victories, will be returning to statebred company after finishing fourth in the Grade 2, seven-furlong General George Handicap on Feb. 21. He is 3 for 3 on turf in his career – all against Maryland-breds – at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.

“His turf races are better but I am still not convinced he is better on the grass,” said trainer King Leatherbury, who ranks third on the all-time win list with 6,315 wins. “He has been training very well and I am very pleased.”

The best last-race Beyer Speed Figure belongs to Music City, who earned a 101 for winning an overnight stakes at Churchill Downs. But he has been off since winning that five-furlong turf sprint last June.

The field also includes Sandbagin’ Lover, who finished behind Ben’s Cat three straight times last season, coming closest when he was second, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, in the Mister Diz when it was contested at six furlongs. Sandbagin’ Lover will be making his first start since January and his second since he was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Hugh McMahon.

If the race were moved to the main track, it would benefit Digger, a 14-time winner on dirt who was second in the 2010 General George and comes off a six-furlong win worth a 96 Beyer over Aqueduct’s inner track on March 17.