I wrote a column this week about legendary Maryland trainer King Leatherbury. I realized years ago that there are good stories, and then there are horse racing stories.
Leatherbury’s got a horse racing story.
Leatherbury is currently looking for somebody to put up $100,000 so his over-achieving gelding, Ben’s Cat, can run against the best-bred horses in the world in November at the Breeders’ Cup.
An appearance at the Breeders’ Cup, held this year at historic Churchill Downs, would give both the horse and the trainer the attention they deserve.
Leatherbury has given his life to racing. At 78, he now ranks as the third winningest trainer in racing history, with more than 6,300 wins, but they’ve come mainly in low-money races at low-profile Maryland tracks. His only appearance at the Kentucky Derby, for example, came in 1985, and Leatherbury’s horse finished dead last.
So he’s never rubbed elbows with the Bob Bafferts and Nick Zitos of the world, though Leatherbury’s won a few thousand more races than both of those dudes combined. But because nobody was paying attention to Leatherbury while he put up gaudy numbers all these years, he’s not in the racing Hall of Fame.
Ben’s Cat, a five-year-old gelding, comes from simple stock: His parents are a mare Leatherbury owned and had on his farm and a rented stallion who’d never sired a winner. Ben’s Cat broke his pelvis as a two-year-old, which would usually kill any chances of a racing career.
But Leatherbury stuck by his animal, and when Ben’s Cat left the barn and started racing last year at the geezerly age of four, he paid the trainer back for his loyalty with eight wins in his first eight starts.
So Ben’s Cat, now five years old, is currently ranked among the best turf sprinters in the world. But unless somebody ponies up the $100,000 Breeder’s Cup entry fee, Leatherbury and his horse will not be in that showcase race.
But Leatherbury’s not letting his horse sit around the stall while waiting to see if he’ll be shipping to Churchill Downs. No, Leatherbury’s entered Ben’s Cat in the Turf Sprint of tomorrow’s Maryland Million card at Laurel Park.
Ben’s Cat has been installed as the 4-5 favorite. A big performance might catch the eye of a well-heeled gambler who’ll put up the $100,000 for the chance of splitting the winners share of a $1 million Breeders’ Cup purse with Leatherbury. Such a win would bring the aging trainer the acclaim that’s always avoided him and, surely, a Hall of Fame nod.
Post-time for tomorrow’s 11-race card is 12:35 p.m. If the weather holds, you’ll get 20,000 folks in the grandstand, and the track will have live bands, pony rides, and racing celebrities (including ’70s teen idol jockey Steve Cauthen) wandering the grounds.
Plus, you’ll get to witness a chapter in the burgeoning Ben’s Cat/King Leatherbury tale. Again, that’s a horse racing story.
Tell me there ain’t a movie there!