In his first year of eligibility, Ben’s Cat was a slam dunk for induction into the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame.
King T. Leatherbury’s homebred was one of the most celebrated and beloved runners to ever compete in Maryland, becoming a local legend and a national treasure. Competing eight seasons, the nearly-black gelding sporting signature white and orange blinkers and silks racked up a Maryland-bred record (on the flat) 26 stakes wins, became the all-time leader by number of state-bred championship titles, 17 in all, including four consecutive for Horse of the Year, and earned $2,643,782. Leatherbury credits Ben’s Cat’s accomplishments as the final push for the trainer’s induction into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
A son of Country Life Farm stallion Parker’s Storm Cat out of Leatherbury’s stakes-placed homebred Twofox (by Leatherbury-trained graded stakes winner Thirty Eight Paces), Ben’s Cat didn’t make his first start until age 4 after suffering a broken pelvis at 2 for which he was stall-bound for six months. He made his debut at Pimlico on May 8, 2010, for a $20,000 tag and set every fraction going six furlongs on the main track to win by nearly two lengths. Leatherbury risked him again for $25,000 six weeks later at Delaware Park. Same distance, main track, another win. That was the last time someone had the chance to claim him. He won his next six starts, among them – in his first two starts on the turf – the first of six scores in the Mister Diz Stakes and first of three Maryland Million Turf Sprints. In his only career start beyond a mile he battled to a nose victory in that year’s Find Handicap at a mile and an eighth on the turf.
From 2011 to 2014 he added 20 stakes victories (an average of five a year), including back-to-back runnings of Parx Racing’s Turf Monster Handicap-G3, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race at five furlongs on the turf. In 2011 he vanquished not only the previous year's Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge, but the top three finishers of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Fans clamored to see Ben’s Cat run in the Breeders’ Cup, but he wasn’t nominated and Leatherbury would have had to pay a $100,000 supplemental entry fee, which he chose not to do.
One race that did put him on the national stage was the Jim McKay Turf Sprint on the Preakness Day undercard. He started seven times in the five-furlong turf test which attracted horses from around the country, and won it five times, the last at age 10 in 2016, in what would be his final victory.
Ben’s Cat's seven starts on a Maryland Million day card ties the most of any horse, and he is one of seven in the event’s history to win three times. The Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap became his domain as he won it each of his first three years. When that race was discontinued, he went postward in the one-mile Maryland Million Turf in 2013 and 2014, finishing second in both, beaten a neck in one. Leatherbury selected the six-furlong Maryland Million Sprint on the dirt for Ben’s Cat's next two attempts – he missed winning the 2015 edition by a nose.
Ben’s Cat started three times at age 11, two were in stakes, before Leatherbury chose to retire him in June 2017. The gelding who terrorized turf sprinters on the East Coast for years headed to a Kentucky farm to live out his life in luxury, but tragically died from colic surgery complications less than a month later. His ashes were returned to Maryland and buried during a ceremony next to the Laurel Park paddock that November. During his career of 63 races, 22 were at Laurel, and 11 of his 32 wins came at the track where he was based.
That fall, voters in record-breaking numbers from around the world selected him the recipient of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, which annually recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.