The late Ben’s Cat, four-time Maryland Horse of the Year, has been awarded the 2017 Secretariat Vox Populi Award, or “Voice of the People,” with record-breaking voter participation.
The award, created by Secretariat’s late owner Penny Chenery, annually recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.
During Ben’s Cat’s eight-year career, which included three races in 2017, the 11-year-old multiple stakes winner finished in the money in 48 of his 63 starts, earned $2.6 million and widespread fan devotion that grew from his Mid-Atlantic base and spread internationally.
Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury bred, owned, and trained Ben’s Cat.
While many of Thoroughbred racing’s stars emerge from the Triple Crown trail and other noteworthy stakes races, the beginnings for Ben’s Cat were humble. Leatherbury entered the then 4-year-old in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race at Pimlico Race Course in 2010. The dark bay gelding, who was of modest breeding and had broken his pelvis a couple of years prior, won that race — and he kept winning year after year, on the turf and the dirt, during a long and accomplished career that culminated this past June and boasted 26 stakes victories. He died just a few weeks after his retirement following complications from colic.
“My mother created this award to honor the horses whose stories draw people to Thoroughbred racing and convert them to fans,” said Kate Tweedy, daughter of the late Penny Chenery, who established the Vox Populi Award in 2010. “She certainly admired the journey of Ben’s Cat and would have been thrilled with the outcome of this year’s voting. Our family looks forward to meeting Mr. Leatherbury and sharing this special celebration with racing fans.”
Leatherbury, 84, who races under The Jim Stable, continues to train on the Mid-Atlantic circuit and has a career total of nearly 6,500 wins.
“It is quite an honor for Ben’s Cat to receive this impressive award,” Leatherbury said. “I never would have guessed his fan base reached that far. Ben’s Cat won a lot of races, and I sure did enjoy racing him. This is really something.”
The Tweedy family will present the custom-made Vox Populi trophy to Leatherbury Jan. 20 at Santa Anita Park. In conjunction with the presentation, a variety of festivities will be offered to the public.
Ben’s Cat was one of a select group of nominees submitted by the Vox Populi committee. In the online poll, thousands of Vox Populi voters from more than 50 countries showed their support by choosing Ben’s Cat. He joins other Vox Populi Award winners: California Chrome (2016 and 2014), American Pharoah (2015), Mucho Macho Man (2013), Paynter (2012), Rapid Redux (2011), and Zenyatta (inaugural 2010).