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Ben's Cat Faces Stern Test in Dave's Friend

King Leatherbury’s Ben’s Cat, one of the top turf sprinters in the country, returns to the main track for the first time in nearly a year as the 5-2 favorite in the $100,000 Dave’s Friend Stakes, one of four added-money tests at Laurel Park on Saturday afternoon.

The son of Parker’s Storm Cat, who became Leatherbury’s first millionaire last year, has won 23-of-36 starts for earnings of $1,720,640. Now seven, Ben’s Cat had to recover from a broken pelvis before he made his maiden debut at age four in 2010, then began his career with eight consecutive victories, including five on the main track. Leatherbury then moved his homebred to the grass where he has earned 15 stakes scores, including three graded wins.

 

Ben’s Cat has won 8-of-12 on the main track, including three stakes. He last raced on the dirt November 21, 2012 with a victory in the Fabulous Strike Handicap at Penn National, beating Immortal Eyes and Poseidon’s Warrior in a photo finish.

 

“I am going to analyze the race tomorrow but there is no guarantee that I am going to run. We have other options,” Leatherbury said. “He is certainly better on the turf but he can run on the dirt. I want to see how hard we are going to have to run to win the race. We’ll handicap and make the decision.”

 

Leatherbury’s other alternatives are the $250,000 Fabulous Strike on Nov. 27 or the $300,000 Fall Highweight Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.

 

If Ben’s Cat runs, he will face a field featuring several sharp sprinters.

 

Guam Typhoon (3-1) has won seven of eight starts since Jamie Ness claimed the son of Distorted Humor in February 2012.  The gelding has won stakes races at Colonial Downs, Mountaineer Park and Penn National since entering the Ness barn. This year, he has run just twice but comes into the race off an allowance victory here on Oct. 10.

 

Service for Ten (7-2) has been off the board just once in 11 lifetime starts. In his previous two races, the 4-year-old won the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial at Delaware Park in August for trainer Damon Dilodovico and was a game third in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash here two months ago.

 

Action Andy (6-1) won the 2012 De Francis Dash but is winless in four starts this year, although the son of Gators N Bears has finished second three times, including the Maryland Million Sprint last month for trainer Carlos Garcia.

 

Rainbow Heir (6-1) began the year with four consecutive victories, including the Jersey Shore Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park on July 4. Since then, the 3-year-old colt has off the board finishes in the Amsterdam (G2) and Gallant Bob (G3). 

 

Rounding out the field will be Fersmiley (10-1), Congressional Page (15-1), Broad Rule (20-1) and Escrow Kid (20-1).

 

The $100,000 Jennings Handicap is headed by Maryland Million Classic winner Eighttofasttocatch, the two-time defending champion. The 7-year-old led from start to finish in the Classic under Forest Boyce for his eighth career stakes score. The Tim Keefe trainee won the Jennings last year in the same front running fashion.

 

“He came out of the Maryland Million in great shape,” Keefe said. “The race shortens up to a mile (from 1-1/8) which helps us. I imagine the pace will be a little more spirited than the Maryland Million. I can’t imagine they’ll let us get away with a 25 (second) quarter but this horse has been pressured before. He has gas and he loves the one-mile distance. It will be interesting to see what the others do because clearly my horse is going straight to the lead.”

 

Eighttofasttocatch has been established as the 3-5 favorite to defeat six other Maryland-breds by Maryland Jockey Club oddsmaker Keith Feustle.

 

Todd Pletcher will send out the program favorite in both 2-year-old stakes races, the $100,000 Smart Halo for fillies and the $100,000 James F. Lewis III Stakes for colts and geldings.

 

The Smart Halo is headed by maiden victor Co Cola, an impressive winner at Belmont in her debut last month. Chris DeCarlo picks up the mount on the daughter of Candy Ride, who drew the outside post in the seven horse field and was made the prohibitive 6-5 favorite.

 

“She’s trained really well both before and after that race,” Pletcher said. “She is a filly that has a lot of natural speed so we’ll try to take advantage of that. We also have a favorable post and will see how the race unfolds because there is some other speed in there. She was very professional in her debut and I hope she continues to be that way Saturday.”

 

The James Lewis has attracted a dozen starters, including Saratoga Special (G2) winner Corfu, the 5-2 morning line favorite, and Aarons Orient, the 4-1 third choice. Both are trained by Pletcher.

 

Corfu, a son of Malibu Moon, followed up his victory with an off the board finish in the Hopeful (G1) as the betting choice and a gutsy second in the Futurity (G2) at Belmont Park.

 

“He is very fast,” Pletcher said. “I was a little disappointed in the Hopeful but other than that he has showed up and run hard every time. He has a lot of natural speed so we’ll let him use that without over doing it. I was pleased with his first two races at Saratoga (Corfu broke his maiden first-out before winning the Saratoga Special) and his last effort.”

 

Aarons Orient has been in Pletcher’s barn for a month after owner Gary Barber purchased the Orientate colt from Steve Asmussen’s stable after a victory in the Kip Deville Stakes at Remington Park in late September.

 

“We got him about a month ago and he has been very impressive to watch train. Both of his breezes for us have been quite good. We have run against him before (finished fourth behind Corfu in July),” added Pletcher. “There is so much speed in here, something has to give. This race came up very difficult. There are some really nice colts in here.”

 

The Lewis also includes Pure Sensation (7-2), who has been runner-up to both Pletcher runners in maiden starts, and Laurel Park-based Debt Ceiling (5-1), who has won four of six starts with three stakes victories, including the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs in June.

 

Prior to the fifth race, the Maryland Jockey Club will honor recently retired Dance to Bristol with a  winners’ circle ceremony. Conditioned by Ollie Figgins III at the Bowie Training Center, Dance to Bristol enjoyed a stellar 4-year-old campaign with victories in seven of her 10 starts this year. The daughter of Speightstown and jockey Xavier Perez reeled off seven straight victories from February through August, including a win in the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness weekend and three graded races in New York: Bed Of Roses (G3), Honorable Miss (G2) and Ballerina (G1). She finished her career with 10 wins and eight second place finishes in 20 career starts for earnings of $980,880.

GARY CAP CELEBRATES 50TH BIRTHDAY WITH WIN IN THURSDAY OPENER

Trainer Gary Capuano celebrated his 50th birthday with a gate-to-wire victory by Bombay Beaches in the Thursday opener at odds of nearly 10-1. The daughter of Holy Bull paid $21.80 in her maiden victory.

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