Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: October 17, 11:42 AM ET
The year of the Kitten
By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
Ken Ramsey seems to be running an assembly line as much as a horse racing stable. He churns out these horses as if they're made in a factory somewhere, each one similarly named, each one with ability, so many of them stakes winners. Which horse named Kitten something or other will win what next?
Ramsey is hoping it will be one or more of the six offspring of Kitten's Joy he plans to start in the Breeders' Cup, and you can't help but think he's going to have a very fruitful weekend at Santa Anita. As good as he is going how can he not?
Two more of Ramsey's "Kittens" won last weekend. At Calder, Amen Kitten won the Tropical Park Derby and just a few minutes later Kitten's Dumplings won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland. Two days earlier Kitten Kaboodle won the Grade 3 Jessamine at Keeneland and three days before that Bobby's Kitten won the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont.
That's four stakes wins by Team Kitten over a six-day period. For the year, 18 different Ramsey-owned sons or daughters of Kitten's Joy have combined to win 24 stakes races, among them the Arlington Million, the Just a Game, the United Nations and the Sword Dancer.
"It's sort of like eating popcorn and Cracker Jack, the more you eat the more you want," Ramsey said.
Ramsey raced Kitten's Joy and retained ownership rights to him as a stallion. Despite conventional wisdom that long-distance turf horses can't make it in the U.S. as sires, Kitten's Joy has turned out to be one of the great stallions in the world and a goldmine for his 77-year-old owner.
Ramsey is a self-described perfectionist who has been successful in the real estate and cell phone businesses and much of Kitten's Joy' success is his doing. He has been very careful about which mares go to his sire and is more concerned about their bloodlines than their racing records. It's unlikely that Kitten's Joy would have ever become the sire he is if in anyone else's hands.
But the story involves some luck, too.
Kitten's Joy's dam is Kitten's First, who broke a hip in her second career start, the Junior Championship at Monmouth in 1993. The vet was ready to put her down, but Ramsey arrived on the scene in the nick of time and insisted that the filly be given a chance to recover.
"If I had gotten there five minutes later she would have been dead and none of this would have happened," Ramsey said.
As a broodmare, Kitten's First had problems delivering live foals because the broken hip partially obstructed her birth canal. Ramsey was told to give up on her as a dam, but wouldn't. Kitten's Joy was delivered by cesarean section, a rarity for a thoroughbred. It was Ramsey's idea.
Kitten's Joy was an outstanding race horse who made over $2 million, but won only on the turf. When it was time for him to be retired after he finished second in the 2005 Arlington Million, few were interested in breeding to him.
"Nobody wanted to breed to a long distance turf horse, even if he was an Eclipse Award winning champion and had a great race record," Ramsey said. "They are prejudiced against those kinds of horses and I guess that's because the American classics, The Derby, Preakness and Belmont, are all run on dirt."
For the year, 18 different Ramsey-owned sons or daughters of Kitten's Joy have combined to win 24 stakes races.
So Ramsey knew that if Kitten's Joy was going to make it as a sire he would have to be the one to make it happen. He set out to assemble his own band of broodmares, many of which he got through claims. Predictably, the Kitten's Joys are better on the turf and synthetic tracks than they are on dirt, but that hardly seems to matter. What does is that he has produced a remarkable number of top class horses, the vast majority owned by Ramsey and his wife Sarah.
With the Kittens leading the way, the Ramseys are far and away the leading owner in the country in earnings with $10.6 million and they are second in wins with 184. They are also miles ahead in the category of stakes races won with 37.
He says the biggest pleasure he has derived from this year to end all years is the joy it has brought to his wheelchair-bound wife.
"I get so much joy out of watching her get all excited, her clapping, the expression on her face when we go to the track and win," he said. "She has not been able to go to the track every day but she was out there each time at Keeneland this fall and last spring when we won a stakes. Vicariously, I am enjoying it more through her than I am myself."
In less than three weeks the red and white Ramsey colors will be well represented in the Breeders' Cup. He plans to start Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution (one of the few Kitten's Joy's not named Kitten something) in the Turf. He'll have Kitten Kaboodle and Granny Mc's Kitten in the Juvenile Filly Turf. Bobby's Kitten will start in the Juvenile Turf and Queen Elizabeth winner Kitten's Dumpling will go in the Filly & Mare Turf.
He is most excited about Bobby's Kitten.
"I think he's the best Kitten's Joy that I have," Ramsey said. "He's got more turn of foot and more tactical speed than the old man himself."
With the Kittens leading the way, the Ramseys are far and away the leading owner in the country in earnings with $10.6 million and they are second in wins with 184.