by Dustin Fabian
November 8, 2017
If you’ve followed this sport for the last decade, there’s no way the venerable Maryland-bred gelding, Ben’s Cat, eluded your radar. He earned $2.6 million at the races the hard way – by entering the starting gate 63 times. He won 32 of those races and finished second or third another 15 times.
He won the same race (Laurel’s Mister Diz Stakes) a remarkable six times, and greeted race fans on Preakness weekend with five victories in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes. He won races like the Grade 3 Parx Dash and Grade 3 Turf Monster, and was trained throughout his career by legendary horseman, King Leatherbury.
Ben’s Cat was retired this June at the age of 11, and shockingly passed away just weeks later following colic surgery.
Saturday’s Laurel Park card is dedicated to Ben’s Cat. If you’re in the area, we highly recommend making a trip to the track. Special first post is 12PM ET. The celebration includes a Ben’s Cat poster and bobblehead giveaway, as well as an autograph session with King Leatherbury and the five jockeys who guided Ben’s Cat to victory during his career – Julien Pimentel, Jeremy Rose, Trevor McCarthy, Rosemary Homeister Jr. and Horacio Karamanos.
Additionally, Ben’s Cat’s ashes will be buried near the Laurel paddock at 10:30AM ET.
The card also features six stakes races worth a combined $575,000. That’s where I come in. Here are my thoughts and picks for each of the stakes races.
Race 2 (12:30PM ET) – Geisha Stakes (75k) – 1 Mile
Claudio Gonzalez is the most prolific trainer in Maryland this year. So far he has scored at a 25% strike rate and won the Training Title at both the Laurel and Timonium summer meets. He sends out two runners in this race that were impressive on Maryland Million Day. #7 MISS NOSY looks to be his ‘catch me if you can’ entrant. She figures to go right to the front in a race void of much speed. His better horse, #2 MY MAGICIAN, will look to close from midpack. I’ll actually give a slight edge to MISS NOSY, who has won three straight starts by a combined 10+ lengths since being claimed in August, but neither entrant would be a surprise.
Race 5 (2:00PM ET) – Smart Halo Stakes (100k) – 6 Furlongs
Sophomore fillies take center stage in the Smart Halo, and I’m betting on #4 JEHOZACAT to take a big step forward. She broke her maiden in fine fashion and Laurel and most recently was run down late in a Keeneland allowance race by a filly named Sultry that went on to win the Spendthrift Juvenile Filly Stakes at Churchill. JEHOZACAT’s breeding is impeccable (by Tapit, out of Precious Kitten) and while her speed figures are a bit light (career best Beyer of 64), she has been racing against quality fillies and has held her own. #8 PACIFIC GALE is a serious filly that gets back to sprinting after a try in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland. She didn’t stay that day, but she won the Sorority Stakes going this distance at Monmouth and earned a 73 Beyer. I think they’ll be flying early in this race, so give closes like #5 FRIGID SISTER and #6 CAUGHT DREAM’N an extra look.
Race 6 (2:30PM ET) – City of Laurel Stakes (100k) – 7 Furlongs
It’s great to see #2 EL AREEB back to the races, but (spoiler alert) I think his first race back is a great opportunity to bet against him. The winner of the Grade 3 Jerome and Withers, he has been off since March, when a knee injury knocked him off the Triple Crown Trail. And that injury, coupled with the layoff and the quality of this field, seem to make this a good time to try and beat him. I’m just not convinced he’ll fire his best first off the pine. Instead, I’ll focus my bets on #1 TALE OF SILENCE. This colt has knocked heads against the likes of Practical Joke, Takaful, West Coast, Tapwrit, Malagacy and American Anthem this summer, and he’s been sneaky decent in one-turn races at a mile or shorter, including a 2-length defeat in the Grade 3 Dwyer and a 3-length loss in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens. If he runs back to either of those, he’s the winner. #4 NO DOZING is a horse I’ve followed all year, and he’s a perfect 2-for-2 at Laurel, but it’s past due time for him to do something other than tease his backers with decent finishes. He’s finished in the Top 4 in five graded stakes races, but has yet to win one and was in the Exacta just twice.
Race 7 (3:00PM ET) Safely Kept Stakes (100K) – 7 Furlongs
Sophomore fillies are on display in the Safely Kept, and I’m locked and loaded on the popular local filly, #11 SHIMMERING ASPEN. I loved her run two back in the Twixt Stakes here, and I’m willing to draw a line right through her race last out in the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks. She’s not the first horse to struggle at that bullring track, and she won’t be the list. She’s 5-for-6 at Laurel and hasn’t lost here since her debut last August. Chad Brown’s #13 YOUR LOVE is another one to watch, but her outside draw may not suit her running style, and I don’t think she’s talented enough to chase down SHIMMERING ASPEN if that one brings her A-game. I’ll also give a look to the Woodbine invader, #9 JUST BE KIND. Reade Baker is an accomplished trainer and this filly is in top form and could run well on the dirt.
Race 8 (3:30PM ET) – James F. Lewis III Stakes (100k) – 6 Furlongs
Two-year-old colts square off in the James F. Lewis, a race previously won by the likes of El Areeb, Awesome Speed and Cinco Charlie. Needless to say, this year’s winner won’t be in bad company. My pick to join that list is John Servis’ #5 A DIFFERENT STYLE. He drew a great outside post for his forward style and he should offer significantly more value than the expected favorite, #6 KOWBOY KARMA, who exits a decent 4th place finish in Belmont’s Grade 1 Champagne. That one should relish a return to shorter racing (he was 0-for-2 at a mile), but he’s going to need a pace to run at, which he may not get this time around.
Race 9 (4:00PM ET) – Richard W. Small Stakes (100k) – 1 1/8 Miles
The last stakes race on the card is the $100,000 Richard ‘Dickie’ Small Stakes, and I’m putting my money on the veteran, #7 FEAR THE COWBOY. This is a horse that rarely runs a bad race and runs well regardless of location. This year, he’s won at Delta Downs, Mountaineer and Gulfstream, and has finished second at Indiana Grand, Evangeline Downs and Sam Houston. He’s going to get lost in the betting with multiple bigger names entered, so I’ll use that to my advantage. #4 PAGE MCKIENNEY is as game as it gets, and his effort last out in the PA Derby Championship at Parx showed he still has ‘it.’ He’s finished in the Exacta in 35-of-51 career starts, including 6-of-7 this year. #6 SECURITIZ won the Seattle Slew Stakes last out at Elmont, but didn’t necessarily look great doing it, while #5 WATERSHED has often underwhelmed despite a big reputation. He did win the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland earlier this year, and he’s 2-for-4 at this distance.
As you’re betting Saturday’s card, don’t forget about Laurel’s bettor-friendly wager menu, which includes a 12% takeout Pick 5, 20-cent Jackpot Pick 6, 15% takeout Super High-5 and all of your other favorite wagers.