LAUREL, Md. –West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner’s Jaxon Traveler, who earned a long-awaited graded-stakes victory in his most recent start, will get the chance to reach another goal – a first victory on turf – in Saturday’s $75,000 Ben’s Cat at Laurel Park.
The fifth running of the Ben’s Cat for 3-year-olds and up and 34th renewal of the Jameela for fillies and mares 3 and older, both scheduled for 5 ½ furlongs on grass, are among four $75,000 stakes restricted to Maryland-bred/sired horses on a 10-race program along with the Star de Naskra for 3-year-olds and Miss Disco for 3-year-old fillies sprinting seven furlongs on the main track.
Headlining the last of Laurel’s three spectacular Saturdays in July featuring a total of 11 stakes worth $1.05 million is the $100,000 Deputed Testamony for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles. First race post time is 12:40 p.m.
In the Ben’s Cat, 4-year-old Jaxon Traveler will be trying turf for just the third time and first since running third by less than length in the six-furlong Allied Forces last fall at Belmont Park. A six-time career winner of $571,310 in purse earnings from 16 starts, the Munnings colt was also third in last summer’s Caress (G3) at Saratoga and second in the Woodstock over Woodbine’s synthetic surface.
“I think the timing of it couldn’t be any better,” West Point Executive Vice President Tom Bellhouse said. “He’s so versatile. I think we know that with his running style he’s going to put himself right in the game. If the weather holds up and we have firm turf, I think that would play to his strength.”
Jaxon Traveler snapped a six-race losing streak with his front-running 1 ¾-length victory in the six-furlong Maryland Sprint (G3) May 21 on the undercard of the 147th Preakness (G1) at historic Pimlico Race Course. He had run second to his Steve Asmussen-trained stablemate Mighty Mischief in the 2021 Chick Lang (G3), also on Preakness Day.
“I think we all kind of felt like he was a little unlucky not to have [a graded win] already. That being said, you’re around enough horses and the way their careers go and there’s nothing promised and there’s nothing guaranteed,” Bellhouse said. “The fact that he hadn’t won one, we were hoping that he was just a little unlucky and that performance on that day, the way he ran, the way [Joel] Rosario rode him, was just super exciting. To win a graded-stakes race on one of the best days in racing is just a thrill.”
The connections were hoping to bring Jaxon Traveler back to Maryland for the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash July 16 at Laurel, but he was set back by a minor foot issue and missed the race.
“He came out of the last race with a little issue on his frog, but they gave him plenty of time. He’d had kind of a hard campaign in general, so the timing of it probably couldn’t have been much better,” Bellhouse said. “It’s disappointing not to be able to be around for the De Francis Dash, but this horse always lays it on the line. He ran the best race of his career on Preakness Day and it’s just super exciting to bring him back after a little freshening.”
Jaxon Traveler has enjoyed most of his success in Maryland, where he was bred by Dr. and Mrs. Leonard Pineau. He has finished first or second in seven of his eight starts at either Laurel or Pimlico, five of them wins including the 2020 Maryland Juvenile and 2021 Star de Naskra.
“We take a lot of pride in him. He is as sturdy as they come. If you look at the Maryland breeding program, I think he’s kind of the poster boy that you’d want for that program. He runs on any surface, he dances every dance, he’s a son of Munnings and that whole Speightstown line,” Bellhouse said. “I’d love to have a barn full of him. He’s just an honest, kind horse that brings it and makes you feel good. We’re all about running horses and he lets us do that on a regular basis.”
Making his turf debut in the Ben’s Cat is Built Wright Stables’ Double Crown, a two-time stakes winner that is twice Grade 3-placed on dirt including a runner-up finish behind Yaupon in the 2020 Chick Lang. He has run second in each of his last three starts, two of them for owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash, who claimed the 5-year-old Bourbon Courage gelding for $40,000 June 5.
In addition to the surface switch, Double Crown cuts back to a sprint for the first time since February after running one mile and 1 1/16 miles in his two starts for Cash, both at Churchill Downs in second- and third-level allowance spots, the latter to Grade 2-placed Candy Tycoon, who sold for $145,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Horses of Racing Age sale July 11.
“He’s really just moving up, it seems like. The three-other-than, that was basically a stakes race,” Cash said. “I brought him over from Kentucky early so that we could work him on the turf here. We took him three-eighths to see how he liked the turf, and he seemed to take to it really well. I’m pretty excited about the race. Facing Maryland breds it’ll be a little softer spot than the open, I do believe.”
A debut winner at Laurel in September 2019 before being purchased privately and sent to South Florida, Double Crown returned to Laurel twice last fall and second in the Maryland Million Sprint and fifth in the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial. His last win came in a May 2021 optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Park.
“Class-wise, he fits in there; it’s just a matter of how he takes to the surface,” Cash said. “Going 5 ½, hopefully he comes rolling down the lane like a freight train. We’d like a little more distance but we’ve got [Feargal] Lynch on him. He’s the one that worked him and he’s been on him before.”
Also entered are 2021 Maryland Million Turf Sprint winner Grateful Bred, winless in three starts this year; Kenny Had a Notion, a stakes winner on turf and dirt; Justwaveandsmile, 5-for-7 lifetime on the grass including back-to-back sprint wins at Laurel; Showtime Cat and stakes-placed Matta and Youngest of Five, the latter in his turf debut. Stakes winner Alwaysinahurry is entered for main track only.
Bred, owned and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat won 32 of 63 career races, 26 stakes and more than $2.6 million in purses from 2010 to 2017. A four-time Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, Ben’s Cat died July 18, 2017, of complications from colic surgery.
David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
Photo: Jaxon Traveler winning the 2022 Maryland Sprint. (Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)