10/13/2011 11:34AM

Q&A: King Leatherbury

Barbara D. Livingston

The third-winningest trainer of all time, with 6,327 victories, his Ben’s Cat could go in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint after winning the Maryland Million Turf Sprint for the second straight year.

Birthdate: March 26, 1933, in Shady Side, Md.

Family: wife, Linda; twin sons, Taylor and Todd

Got into racing because. . . My father owned horses. He had a small breeding operation. He liked it. As a kid, I used to go to the races with him. We lived close to Bowie and a half-mile track, Marlboro. I liked to handicap, even in grammar school. I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out who’s going to win. I still have fun doing that.

How instrumental is handicapping in helping you spot your horses? It does help. You can figure out the value of your horses, the different categories they should go in, which races suit different types of horses.

You own and train Ben’s Cat. After he fractured a pelvis when he was 2, did you ever imagine him getting this good? No. Even if he hadn’t been hurt, I don’t know that I could have expected much. He’s by a stallion that hadn’t done anything. The farm in Maryland had counted him out. The mare was stakes placed in a Maryland-bred stake. He was just a horse we had, that’s all. When he hurt himself, they recommended he stay in his stall, and he did for seven or eight months. Once he was over that and went back into training, we brought him up in a routine kind of way. We certainly didn’t think much of him.

You ran him for a tag the first time, and he won. Then you ran him for a tag the second time. Were you worried you would lose him? Looking back, that was foolish. I could have lost him there. I got away with it, thank goodness.

Ben’s Cat is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, so it would cost $100,000 to run him in the Turf Sprint. What are the chances that happens? I want to run. I’ve never run a horse in the Breeders’ Cup. The problem is that it’s like betting $100,000 on your horse. Usually, when you run in a race, you run for the purse, but you don’t put up any money. If you lose a race, you lose a race. But in this case, you could lose a nice amount of money. I’ve put out a business venture where if someone wants, if they put up the $100,000, they can take the $100,000 off the top of whatever he wins, and the balance we’ll split 50-50. I’d pay the training bills. That’s the offer that’s out there.

You are tied for the lead in Maryland Million victories with nine. How significant has the Maryland Million been to racing in the state? The first year they had it I won two races right off the bat. It’s the second-biggest day in Maryland. The Preakness is the biggest. People enjoy it. It’s a special day. It’s a different atmosphere. Very few local horsemen participate in the Preakness. But the Maryland Million, 90 percent of the owners and trainers are local.

You are the third-winningest trainer of all time. Number four, Jerry Hollendorfer, got into the Hall of Fame this year. Do you think you will ever get in? People ask me that all the time. All the trainers in there, they had a super horse. Bud Delp was a buddy of mine. He’s there because of Spectacular Bid. Sonny Hine had one good horse (Skip Away). I haven’t had a super horse. I don’t deal in high-quality horses. Most of my horses are claiming horses. I’ve been on the ballot. A lot of the sportswriters vote for me, but not enough. There’s a lot of good trainers. Whether I belong, I don’t know. Probably. But I haven’t had the one super horse, or won a Triple Crown race.

There was fierce competition in Maryland in the 1970s between you, Dick Dutrow, Bud Delp, and John Tammaro Jr. Do you miss those guys and those days? That was a special time. We had huge, powerful stables. The competition was fierce. It made us all better, having to fight it out. It was a unique time in Maryland.

This coming Saturday, Oct. 15, Laurel is celebrating its 100th birthday, and one aspect of the current meet is a series of videos on Laurel Legends, one of which is on your career. What special place does Laurel hold for you? Bowie was my favorite. There was something very homey about it, not as commercial. Laurel is very close to where I live. I feel more at home at Laurel than any other track.

Best horse trained? That’s a difficult question. There’s different types of horses. Port Conway Lane, he won 52 races, and raced until he was 14. He won stakes, but none that were graded, none of high quality, but he was a favorite of mine. Tammaro, we were kind of enemies. We bought Port Conway Lane even though he had a slight bow in a tendon. Tammaro ran around saying, ‘One of Leatherbury’s owners bought a bowed horse.’ Yet he raced until he was 14 and won 52 races. Then there are the types of horses who are speedy but don’t last long. The two best I’ve had, in terms of being fast, were Taking Risks, who I claimed for $20,000 and won a Grade 1 stakes (Iselin at Monmouth), and Ah Day, a horse I raised, who has won more than $900,000.

Best horse seen? I don’t race in Kentucky or California, and I only venture up to New York on occasion, so I don’t have a good opinion. I remember being stabled at Atlantic City, and Round Table was going to come in there. When I saw him, I thought I’d seen better-looking horses at Charles Town, I have to say.

Future ambitions? I just want to keep on going. As you get older, your owners get older. People get old and die. It’s hard for a 78-year-old trainer to acquire new clients. I’ve got 15 or 16 horses. I used to maintain a 60-horse stable. I don’t have the action I used to. But it keeps me going. I’d like to win a few more races. I still get a kick out of that.