Ben’s Cat set to pounce again

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While the newcomers will get plenty of attention at Penn National Saturday night, an old friend returns for another go at a signature event at the Grantville, Pa. track.

Ben’s Cat, a Maryland-bred with turf and dirt starts (and wins) at the track for owner/trainer/breeder King T. Leatherbury, returns in the $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup. The 5-year-old seeks his 22nd lifetime win, in his 32nd start, and is 5-2 on the morning line while breaking from the outside of an 11-horse field. The $1.4 million earner returned with authority in 2013, winning the Mister Diz Stakes and the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico. Predictably, Leatherbury expects another solid effort from his stable star.

“He’s super, he really is,” said the trainer. “He’s as good as ever. He really doesn’t stop amazing me. Year after year he comes back just as good. I liked that his first race was easy. To make that first race of the year nice and easy so it doesn’t set you back is important. The second one was a little bit better effort so I don’t see why he won’t come right back with one.”

In the May 17 McKay, Ben’s Cat rated off the lead and passed four horses in the stretch to defeat Spring To The Sky and Bridgetown. The latter returns in the 5-furlong Governor’s Cup for trainer Todd Pletcher. A win would push the 6-year-old past the $1 million mark in career earnings. Nine-year-old Chamberlain Bridge seeks to pass the $2 million mark, and win his 20th career race, for trainer Bret Calhoun. The son of War Chant was beaten a head by Ben’s Cat at Parx last year and exits a narrow second at Churchill Downs. Others in the competitive field include Icon Ike, Kyma and Tightened Touchdown.

Julian Pimentel gets back aboard Ben’s Cat for the ninth consecutive time. They’ve been first or second in all but one, a fourth in the 2012 Governor’s Cup. His four-start Penn record is evenly split with two wins (the 2011 Governor’s Cup on turf and 2012 Fabulous Strike on dirt). Surface matters little to the son of Parker’s Storm Cat, who prefers turf but thrives on competition above all else.

“He knows he’s supposed to beat that horse in front of him and that’s a big plus,” said Leatherbury. “Even in the mornings when he’s galloping, if there’s a horse in front of him he’s on the bit. If there’s nobody in front of him, he’s off the bit and relaxed.”

The Governor’s Cup is the night’s second race with a post time of 6:28.

Penn National Notes

– Four undercard stakes showcase the depth in the Pennsylvania racing and breeding program with two $60,000 restricted stakes and two divisions of the Penn Dash for dirt sprinters. Runners include six-time winner Ann’s Smart Dancer, $300,000 earner Lenape Rim, $532,000 earner Sloane Ranger, $320,000 earner Candyman E, hard-hitting veteran Tujoes, 13-time winner Braulio and others.

– The racing is stellar, but the night came to be for selfish reasons. Penn National hopes to create some buzz, attract attention to its racing product and build on the momentum along the lines of Charles Town and its recent Charles Town Classic night featuring a win by Game On Dude.

“For tracks like Penn National and Charles Town, the way to build brand awareness and year-round customer interest is to do something that really creates a splash and shows people your track can put on big race nights,” Silver said. “People are going to see John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario coming to Penn National and riding graded winners for Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown and Steve Asmussen. It brings a level of credibility to our track.”

The effect trickles down to year-round racing at the track in terms of attention to the product as a wagering choice at other tracks or simulcast centers.

“Obviously we’re hoping to have a big handle that night, but anything you can do to try to get a leg up in this very competitive market is a help,” Silve said. “People have a lot of choices and maybe they look at Charles Town because they saw Game On Dude run there or they’ll see this night we have and look at us now.”

– Beyond the racing lineup, the night at Penn will include fund-raising efforts by three equine aftercare organizations – CANTER Pennsylvania, New Vocations and ReRun.

Headlining the activities will be a visit, and perhaps a demonstration, by painting Thoroughbred Metro Meteor. The former racehorse, a winner of eight races and nearly $300,000, took up painting with new owners Ron and Wendy Krajewski and has sold $50,000 worth of paintings. He’ll be on the track apron helping raise money for retired racehorses.

Silver said Metro Meteor is a big fan of Fig Newtons and Twizzlers, and expects to feed the equine artist a few while holding out hope for a personalized masterpiece as well.

Penn National Entries.

Ben’s Cat Equibase file.

More from TIHR on Penn National night

Rattlesnake Bridge strikes Penn

Rydilluc, Contessa head to Penn National