01/05/2012 2:02PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Stephanie's Kitten

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For a little more than an hour late in the afternoon of Nov. 4, in the time between the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Juvenile Fillies, Stephanie’s Kitten was the one to beat for champion 2-year-old filly. By the end of that day, My Miss Aurelia rendered Stephanie’s Kitten’s stay on top a brief one by virtue of her overwhelming victory in the Juvenile Fillies. But if there were an award for the best turf-synthetic 2-year-old female, it would be a no-brainer. It would be all Stephanie’s Kitten.

In the final two starts of her five-race campaign, Stephanie’s Kitten won the nation’s best grass race for 2-year-old fillies, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and arguably the country’s best synthetic track race for her division, the Alcibiades. And those victories illustrate how much Stephanie’s Kitten progressed in a relatively short period of time.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

Stephanie’s Kitten, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred daughter of Kitten’s Joy (the grass champion the Ramseys also bred and raced and who stands at their Ramsey Farm in Kentucky), from Unfold the Rose (an unraced mare the Ramseys bred), by Catienus (who – you guessed it – also raced for the Ramseys), made an inauspicious racing debut in early July. The filly, named for the Ramseys’ granddaughter, broke slowly and finished a rallying third in a dash on Arlington’s Polytrack. In her second start, trainer Wayne Catalano moved Stephanie’s Kitten to the turf, a surface she was born to love, and she responded with a solid maiden win.

Stephanie’s Kitten was tried next in the Summer Stakes on the Woodbine turf. Despite the obvious class jump and a wide trip, Stephanie’s Kitten finished a good third, proving that she was rapidly improving and did indeed belong at the stakes level.

It was at that point that Stephanie’s Kitten’s career took a turn. Instead of remaining on grass and taking a direct line to the Juvenile Fillies Turf through the Jessamine on Oct. 13, Stephanie’s Kitten instead started on Polytrack in the Alcibiades six days earlier. It turned out that the earlier date of the Alcibiades was a key consideration. As Catalano explained following the race, the Alcibiades afforded Stephanie’s Kitten “a little more time until Breeders’ Cup Day.”

“She’s a little better on the grass, but she was training so well on the Polytrack,” he said. “We took a shot.”

It was a shot well taken. Stephanie’s Kitten rallied from well off the pace, and with a strong late kick she pulled clear of 12 opponents to record her first major victory, causing Ramsey to exclaim, “The stud fee just went up on Kitten’s Joy.”

But the Alcibiades presented another dilemma for Stephanie’s Kitten’s connections. As a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race, the Alcibiades afforded Stephanie’s Kitten a spot in the Juvenile Fillies on dirt. But Stephanie’s Kitten went back to grass, and proved best in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, again thanks to an impressive late kick. And as it turned out, the question of whether Stephanie’s Kitten should go dirt or turf in the Breeders’ Cup proved to be not much of a question at all.

“It only crossed my mind for a second,” Catalano said after the Juvenile Fillies Turf, “and then I thought it was Kitten’s Joy and it was grass. This is what she’s supposed to do.”

And she does it very well.