The $1 million Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint, the race that Ben’s Cat shoulda woulda coulda won, was run without him on Saturday.
Regally Easy, a 2-1 favorite, hit the wire 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Country Day and Perfect Officer at Churchill Downs as the racing world watched.
Ben’s Cat had beaten all of the top three finishers soundly two months ago on the grass and over the same five-furlong distance at Parx Racing, a Philadelphia-area track.
Ben’s Cat spent this weekend in his modest stall at Laurel Park while the Breeders’ Cup took place.
King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat’s legendary owner and trainer, opted not to pay the $100,000 supplemental fee to enter his horse into the Breeders’ Cup. The supplemental fee was required because Leatherbury hadn’t paid the regular $500 fee for Breeders’ Cup eligibility when Ben’s Cat was born.
Leatherbury, now 79, has over 6,300 wins in a career that began in the 1950s, almost all of which came in low-money races at Maryland tracks. He never expected the homebred gelding could be an animal that could take him to the biggest stage.
Ben’s Cats’ mother, Twofox, only had three wins in 23 races; his dad, Parker’s Storm Cat, had never sired a winner before Ben’s Cat came along.
“His breeding didn’t suggest he’d be that quality of horse,” Leatherbury told me this summer. “And I never had [Breeders’ Cup] quality of horses, really. If you have six or seven yearlings each year, and you pay the fee for all of ‘em, well, at [$500] each that adds up to pretty good money.”
So Leatherbury kept the $500 in his pocket.
But then the horse overcame his breeding, his trainer’s doubts and even a broken pelvis, and stunned everybody by winning his first eight races when Leatherbury put him on the track as a four year old.
And when he stomped high-class competition in the Parx Turf Monster Sprint in September, he had clearly become one of the top turf sprinters in the land and seemed headed toward Breeders’ Cup glories. Regally Easy, Country Day and Perfect Officer were all in that race, and finished, respectively, 10th, 8th and 2nd behind Ben’s Cat.
But, Leatherbury didn’t want to put up the $100,000 fee himself, and nobody stepped forward to accept the trainer’s offer of splitting whatever share of the $1 million pot the horse earned with anybody who did pony up the entry money.
A Breeders’ Cup win would have proven Ben’s Cat’s standing, and would have given Leatherbury’s career an ending worthy of a Hollywood feature. It would have been great for racing.
Maybe next year.