Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury celebrated Maryland Pride Day in fitting fashion at Laurel Park on Saturday, saddling local legend Ben's Cat for his sixth straight victory in the Mister Diz Stakes and 30th career triumph.
Leatherbury, 82, bred, owns, trains and campaigns the hickory 9-year-old gelding, who prevailed by a half-length in the $60,000 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint under the white and orange colors of The Jim Stable.
Leatherbury, who has saddled 6460 winners during his career, was presented with a Longines watch and a lawn jockey painted in the colors of his stable during a winner's circle presentation after the third race on the Maryland Pride Day program that offered four stakes for Maryland-sired and Maryland-bred thoroughbreds.
Two races later, he returned to the winner's circle in awe of his abundantly talented and durable Maryland-bred gelding.
"I couldn't believe that we were going to try to win this race for the fifth time last year. For a horse to win a stakes race six consecutive times is unheard of. Most of them are not even running six years down the road," said Leatherbury, who is hopeful that Ben's Cat will be ready to seek his seventh straight win in the Mister Diz next year.
After an alert beginning, Ben's Cat settled off a hotly contested pace under jockey Julian Pimentel, finding himself behind a wall of four horses leaving the backstretch and around the turn into the homestretch. Tipped to the far outside when the field straightened into the stretch, the 2-5 favorite launched a sustained drive to overtake Night Officer, the 5-2 second choice ridden by Forest Boyce, nearing the finish line. Sonny Inspired finished third, an additional 3¼ lengths back.
Ben's Cat, who was coming off a rare off-the-board finish in the Parx Dash (Grade 3) July 11, ran six furlongs in 1 minute, 2.97 seconds.
"He likes to chase the other horses down. I had plenty of horse left at the end," Pimentel said. "He tends to look around when he gets in front, but he was not going to get beat today."
Ben's Cat was a tough act to follow, but Pimentel returned to the Laurel winner's circle after guiding Joy to a hard-fought victory by a head in the $60,000 All Brandy, a 1 1/8-mile turf test for fillies and mares.
Trained by Graham Motion for David Hayden's Dark Hollow Farm, Joy settled just off the pace along the backstretch and around the turn before making a wide drive through the stretch to overtake a stubborn Vielsalm.
"I was a bit worried when the fractions were so slow, but she likes to run on the outside like that, and the jockey gave her a good ride and trained it perfectly," said Motion's assistant, Adrian Rolls.
Hayden was also highly complementary of Pimentel's ride while expressing the joy of winning on Maryland Pride Day.
"It's a great day for Maryland. There are 137 horses Maryland-bred or Maryland-sired, and some of the handles have been phenomenal. It looks like a good day at the windows, too," the prominent Maryland breeder said. "It's more fun for us because she's fourth generation."
Joy, the 11-10 favorite in a field of nine fillies and mares, ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:49.39 while capturing her first victory of the 2015 campaign. Vielsalm, the 4-1 second choice ridden by Boyce, finished 4¼ lengths clear of Green Wave Girl.
Hillwood Stable's Phlash Phelps remained undefeated in three starts this year with a victory in the $60,000 Find Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up.
Phash Phelps went winless in his first six career starts before breaking his maiden in his 2015 debut over Pimlico's turf course on April 23. He came right back to win over a fast main track by eight lengths on May 22 before returning to turf and the winner's circle Saturday.
"We were told when we bought this horse, 'You gotta be patient.' The whole family is late bloomers. We had a few nooks and crannies to work out, soundness-wise, but nothing serious," trainer Rodney Jenkins said. "If you watch him go, he's got a beautiful stride, no effort."
Ridden by Victor Carrasco, The 4-year-old son of Great Notion sat right behind 50-1 pacesetter Capital Fellow along the backstretch and around the turn before being passed and shuffled back to third by Road Hog. However, the streaking gelding fought back between horses to notch a half-length victory at 5-1 odds over late-closing Eyeplayeveryday. Road Hog finished third an additional length back. Talk Show Man, the 3-2 favorite, was never a factor in a fourth-place finish.
Charles Reed's Monster Sleeping swung five-wide off the turn into the homestretch before surging to a 2¼-length victory in the $60,000 Jameela Stakes, a 6-furlong turf stakes for fillies and mares.
Trained by Dale Capuano, Monster Sleeping ran the 6-furlong distance in 1:09.52 under Boyce while defeating favored Everything Lovely and jockey Tammi Piermarini. Eddy Gourmet finished third, a neck farther back.
"She broke well as she usually does and Forest rode her very well today. We didn't win this race last year, but we were close," said Capuano, whose 6-year-old mare finished second, a neck behind the winner, in last year's Jameela.
Towson offense starts fast in football scrimmage
Running back Marquel Dickerson started Towson's second scrimmage of the preseason Saturday with a 56-yard run down the right sideline, and quarterback Connor Frazier capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run. "We started out probably the best we have ever started in a scrimmage," coach Rob Ambrose said. "That was planned and there was a reason for it. We are not as deep as we should be right now because of injury. I do not like how we slid off at the end. We did not finish well enough." Other highlights of the scrimmage included wide receiver Jacquille Veii, a transfer from Maryland, turning a short pass into a 32-yard gain; Veii hurdling over two defenders into the end zone; and linebacker Greg Grant returning an interception 85 yards for a touchdown on the fourth possession. The Tigers will return to the practice field Monday afternoon.
Women's soccer: Natalie Zelensky collected a feed from Abby Thomas at the top of the 18-yard box, turned and fired a shot in the 108th minute for her second goal of the game, lifting Delaware (1-0) to a 2-1 victory over host Loyola Maryland (0-1) on Friday night. Zelensky opened the scoring in the ninth minute, and the Greyhounds tied the score in the 62nd minute on a long chip by Rosy Hayes.
Men's soccer: Maryland was ranked ninth and UMBC 20th in the College Soccer News preseason national poll.
Men's lacrosse: Lehigh announced its 12-member incoming freshman class, which includes long-stick midfielder-defenseman Craig Chick (South River).
Men's cross country: Navy was picked in the Patriot League preseason poll to win its third consecutive championship. Loyola Maryland was picked to finish last in the 10-team league.
Women's cross country: Navy was picked in the Patriot League preseason poll to finish third. Loyola was picked for ninth.
Crews among fighters on card for regional Olympic Trials qualifiers
Franchon Crews of Baltimore and Brittany Inkrote of Red Lion, Pa., are among the women's boxers who will compete in the Eastern Regional Olympic Trials qualifiers Sept. 8-11 at Baltimore Harbor Hotel at 101 W. Fayette St. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the first fight will begin at 8:15 p.m. each day. For ticket information, go to baltimoreboxing.com. Additional information at USABoxing.com.
Major League Soccer: Chris Wondolowski scored his 12th goal of the season 4 minutes into the game and the visiting San Jose Earthquakes (10-10-5) earned a 2-0 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United (13-6-8). Shea Salinas added his second goal of the year in the 52nd minute. United (13-6-8) had won three of its previous four games.