On Nov. 11, Laurel Park will host a day of tribute to fan-favorite Ben's Cat, one of the greatest thoroughbreds to flash across a finish line. But there will also be six stakes races worth $575,000 in purses on an 11-race program.
Two of those stakes races will carry $100,000 purses each, the City of Laurel (for 3-year-olds) and the Safely Kept (for 3-year-old fillies). Both races are seven furlongs.
The $100,000 City of Laurel is scheduled to have a field of nine 3-year-olds led by El Areeb. El Areeb last raced in the Gotham Stakes March 4 and finished third, but he was derailed from taking a run at the Triple Crown races by a minor knee injury suffered in late March while training for the Wood Memorial.
Dr. Dean Richardson -- who worked to save the life of Barbaro after the great horse shattered his right hind leg during the 2006 Preakness Stakes -- performed surgery to repair El Areeb's injury, and the colt was given plenty of rest and rehabilitation and has been working steadily since returning to trainer Cal Lynch's Laurel barn in September.
"He's bigger and stronger than he was before. He's had some time to develop and he's quite a bit bigger, carrying more weight," Lynch said. "There's just more of him now. He hasn't lost his attitude."
Before the injury, El Areeb put together a four-race win streak including the James F. Lewis III at Laurel to cap his juvenile season and the Jerome and Withers to open 2017 that had the handsome gray ranked among the top 3-year-old prospects in the East. At the Gotham, he set the pace through most of the race but fell back to third. That same month, he suffered the injury while training.
In the $100,000 Safely Kept, Shimmering Aspen returns to her favorite track seeking to bounce back from a disappointing out-of-town showing. Shimmering Aspen won all three of her starts going seven furlongs at Laurel by a combined 18 ¼ lengths, including runaway victories in the Alma North and Twixt during the summer. Then at the same distance in the Charles Town Oaks Sept. 23, she faded from an early contending position to finish sixth.
"I have no answers for that race," trainer Rodney Jenkins said. "She just never really ran. I don't think it was something where she couldn't run with those horses, it was just a thing where she didn't. Every once in a while they throw in a clunker, that's part of racing.
"She's doing really good," he added. "She came out of the race sound and everything, she just was a little tired, so I gave her plenty of time. She worked really well the other day. It was a great workout, so it looks like she's ready to go."
For the Saturday race card, there is a special earlier first post time of noon.
The day is being dedicated to Ben's Cat, the Maryland-bred horse racing legend who died earlier this year. Admirers of Ben's Cat, who finished with 32 career wins, will have an opportunity to collect mementoes of the four-time Maryland-bred Horse of the Year.
The first 4,000 program purchasers will receive a Ben's Cat bobblehead, and there will also be a giveaway of Ben's Cat posters while supplies late.
In addition, there will be a burial of Ben's Cat's ashes near the Laurel Paddock.
There will even be a cocktail sold in a commemorative cup.
Ben's Cat raced until he was 11 years old and was 32-9-7 out of 63 starts. Of his 32 wins, 26 were in stakes or graded races.
He was retired from racing in June and headed for a well-deserved life of mostly rest and leisure in Kentucky, but he was soon struck with a serious case of colic. Complications arose from surgery and he was humanely euthanized in July.