By Dennis Heard
I have had the pleasure of knowing King Leatherbury since 1976. I have been his client, his competitor and, on occasion, his co-conspirator. All of these facets were a boatload of fun.
I could not have imagined that 20 years after I left the business, King would come up with a homebred gelding that would rekindle not only our rapport, but that of several other “lost” friends.
Ben’s Cat, a winner of his first eight races, competed in the 2011 running of Laurel’s Native Dancer S. Ben didn’t win that day. That didn’t stop him from doing what he had always done after a race at Laurel–he went directly to the winner’s circle to be unsaddled. After all, that was all he had ever known.
Maryland Million Day 2013, Ben, going a mile, gets beat a neck and the race winner gets booed as he returns to get his picture taken. Tough crowd.
Those are just two of the many incidents that have turned me and others into what I guess can only be called Ben’s Cat groupies.
My friend, Glenn Lane, whose connection to Leatherbury goes back to the early 1980’s, has been the motivating force in our regional pursuit of Ben’s Cat’s “happenings,” or races, as the rest of the world would call them. At each event, I realize how lucky I am to be around a situation that is all that is good about Thoroughbred racing.
Ben didn’t make the races at two or three. He started running as a 4-year-old and hasn’t stopped. He has had only one exercise rider in his life and the same groom for the last six years. His breeder, owner, and Hall of Fame trainer is keenly aware of how special it is to have Ben in the barn. Just ask him.
What makes it all so special? First and foremost is the brilliance of Ben’s Cat. King Leatherbury is as alive and vibrant as a human being can be at 83. Racing fans love this horse. They feel a real attachment to him. Track announcers follow his race position with pinpoint accuracy. “Here comes Ben. Here comes the Cat.”
Lastly, Leatherbury’s management of Ben’s Cat brings to mind a time when most horses received planned seasonal respites. Stables like Calumet, Darby Dan and Rokeby wintered in places like Aiken and Camden, South Carolina. The Jim Stable colorbearer winters in Shady Side, Maryland.
Are King and Ben anachronisms? Are they both throwbacks to another time? Or is it possible they can be models for the future?
What I know for sure is that I am thrilled that they are here now.
Next stop is The Pennsylvania Governors Cup at Penn National on June 4. See you there, fellow groupie.
Dennis Heard is a former owner and trainer on the New York, New Jersey and Maryland circuits.