Photo: Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club
The 28th Jim McKay Maryland Million, a festive homecoming for Marylanders, attracted 108 entrants to the eleven race program which will be presented this Saturday at Laurel Park. First post for the $1 million day is 12:15 p.m.
As expected, owner/trainer King Leatherbury entered Ben’s Cat in both the $125,000 Maryland Million Turf and the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint. Ben’s Cat is looking to become the first horse to win four Maryland Million races. Last year, the Leatherbury homebred won the Turf Sprint for the third consecutive year but that race was eliminated by Maryland Million officials.
Ben’s Cat comes into the race off a win in the Laurel Dash on Sept. 21. Leatherbury had also entered his star in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on that same card.
“We’re going to handicap as we do every day. I enjoy doing that, it’s a challenge. We’ll get the figures out and go through the motions,” said Leatherbury, who ranks fifth on the all-time wins list with 6,404 career wins. “I did the same thing on De Francis day, picking which one we were going to go in. We’ll do the same thing here. Analyze each race.”
The six-furlong Sprint features six runners, including defending champion Action Andy as well as Ribo Bobo, who is a perfect 8-for-8 in 2013. The Turf, which will be run at one mile, drew 10 entries, including Roadhog and Change of Command, the one-two finishers from 2012.
Maryland Jockey Club handicapper Keith Feustle has tabbed Ben’s Cat the as the morning line favorite in both races, a tepid 8-5 choice in the Sprint ahead of Ribo Bono (5-2) and Action Andy (7-2) and 6-5 in the Turf with Change of Command (4-1) and Roadhog (9-2) next in line.
“A mile is not my choice,” added Leatherbury, who tops all trainers with 10 Maryland Million victories. “If I was writing the race myself it would strictly be sprints. He’s won distance races but they weren’t impressive. He just won them. It wasn’t one of those wows.”
The son of Parker’s Storm Cat, who became Leatherbury’s first millionaire last year, has won 23-of-35 starts for earnings of $1,695,640. 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. He has 15 stakes victories on the grass, including three graded wins.
“I’m just lucky. It’s a dream for any horseman,” said the 80-year-old. “When we bring him back each year I say he’s just as good as ever. I don’t know long he can keep doing that.”
The $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at 1-1/8 miles features seven runners, including 2011 champion Eighttofasttocatch, who finished fifth a year ago as the betting favorite.
Feustle made Eighttofasttocatch the overwhelming 2-5 morning line favorite. The son of Not For Love is 1-for-5 this year, which includes a score in the Henry Clark Stakes and a gutsy second in the Pimlico Special (G3) on Preakness weekend. The 7-year-old has six career stakes victories at Laurel Park.
“The key with him is to keep him happy, keep him fresh. That’s why he’s still 100% sound and doing great,” trainer Tim Keefe said. “I don’t think there’s any mystery about how this horse prefers to run. He is what he is. If somebody wants to go with him they’ll kill themselves, especially with us drawing the one hole.”
The Classic is the 10th race on the program with a post time of 5:31 p.m.
$150,000 Maryland Million Classic (10th Race)
PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds Notes
1 Eighttofasttocatch Forest Boyce Tim Keefe 2-5 10-of-12 wins at Laurel Park
2 Count to Seven Open Chris Grove 20-1 12-of-20 in the money finishes
3 Talk Show Man Xavier Perez Hamilton Smith 15-1 never worse than fourth
4 Big Branch J.D. Acosta Jeff Runco 30-1 first or second in last three
5 Seventeenohsix Kendrick Carmouche John Servis 6-1 finished third in Private Terms
6 Romancing the Gold Travis Dunkelberger Gregory DiPrima 10-1 claimed at Saratoga for this spot
7 Wild Louis Trevor McCarthy Linda Gaudet 8-1 13-of-19 in the money finishes
Here is a capsule of the other ten races on Saturday’s program. A more detailed advance on the Maryland Million undercard will be produced Thursday:
$100,000 Nursery (1st race)
Seven 2-year-olds are entered, including Joint Custody from the Jerry Robb barn, who has won both career starts.
$100,000 Lassie (2nd race)
Robb will likely have the favorite in this race, too. Eight 2-year-old fillies are entered, including Jonesin for Jerry, a daughter of Great Notion, who has finished first or second in four of six lifetime starts.
$50,000 Maiden (3rd race)
Thirteen fillies and mares are entered in a 1 1/16 mile test on the turf course.
$100,000 Sprint (4th race)
The six sprinters entered have combined to win 68 races with earnings exceeding $3.5 million.
$50,000 Maiden (5th race)
Fifteen horses are entered in a 1 1/16 mile test on the turf course.
$50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap (6th race)
Thirteen fillies and mares are entered in the one-mile test, including defending champion Motherload Hipster.
$125,000 Ladies (7th race)
Ten fillies and mares are expected, including Pagan Priestess and Dance With Gio, who finished first and third respectively a year ago.
$100,000 Distaff (8th race)
Multiple stakes winner Ju Ju Eyeballs and 2012 Lassie winner Classy Coco top a field of seven fillies and mares.
$125,000 Turf (9th race)
Eleven horses are entered to face to starter. In addition to Ben’s Cat, defending champion Roadhog and runner-up Change Of Command, the field includes Saintly Love, who reeled off six straight wins earlier this year and 2009 winner Target Sighted.
$50,000 Starter Handicap (11th race)
Wide-open affair includes defending champ Varborough and In The Juice, who has competed in the Classic the previous three years.