02/16/2012 5:40PM

2011 stallion honors: Kitten's Joy, leading sire of 2-year-olds

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Kitten’s Joy had a remarkable year in 2011 with his third crop of runners. He edged out Smart Strike by $906 to become leading juvenile sire, finished the season in second to Smart Strike on the turf sire rankings, and was 10th on the general sire list.

That success wasn’t just because of lucky genetics. Kitten’s Joy’s owner and breeder, Ken Ramsey, has left very little to chance when it comes to the breeding career of his 11-year-old “house stallion.” If anyone is surprised to see a grass champion emerge as a leading sire of juveniles, Ramsey suggests they take another look.

“Based on this horse’s race record and his pedigree, his performance was all predictable,” Ramsey said of Kitten’s Joy, who is a son of El Prado. “There’s nothing fluky about it. The secret to our success is very simple. What’s really helped Kitten’s Joy is that myself and my team have been able to define and shape the destiny of this world-class sire. We have carefully selected every single mare that’s been bred to him, and we own most of them. We’ve raised most of his offspring, and we’ve placed them where they can perform their best. We have orchestrated the thing ourselves by keeping the best ones, racing them, giving them to top-notch trainers. We flat put these horses where they can win.”

The Ramseys own 100 percent of Kitten’s Joy, who stands this year for $50,000 at Ramsey Farm near Nicholasville, Ky. Ramsey homebreds have accounted for most of Kitten’s Joy’s laurels this year. His leading earner, Stephanie’s Kitten, won the Alcibiades and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for the Ramseys. Holiday for Kitten and Derby Kitten were graded winners last season, and Dean’s Kitten took the Dallas Turf Cup before placing in a pair of Grade 1’s on the grass, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Arlington Million. A few other Ramsey-breds campaigned by other owners also were among Kitten’s Joy’s best runners last season, most notably Banned, a multiple graded winner in 2011 who was euthanized after an injury last fall.

Ramsey estimated that he and his wife, Sarah − whose nickname, Kitten, gives Kitten’s Joy his name − owned about 80 percent of the mares in the stallion’s first few books. But this year, he said, that’s likely to change.

“I’m getting shut out,” Ramsey said, estimating Ramsey Farm probably will breed 35 or 40 mares to Kitten’s Joy in 2012. “I don’t want to advertise that his book is closed, because if we get another Grade 1 mare or Grade 1-producing mare that fits him, I’ll put mine in the background. But right now we have 150-some contracts already inked and returned, a few more mailed out, and we’ve turned down 70-some that were submitted to him. We’re not breeding them to sell out there for a big price. If we don’t think they’ll get a racehorse, we don’t breed them.”

Ramsey credits pedigree adviser John Frato for planning the mating that produced Kitten’s Joy. Kitten’s Joy’s dam is the Lear Fan mare Kitten’s First, who won her first start by a nose before a broken hip ended her career. The Ramseys’s decision to breed her has paid off for several breeders. Her first foal, the stakes-winning Broad Brush mare Justenuffheart, went on to produce champion Dreaming of Anna and graded winner Lewis Michael for Frank Calabrese and graded winner Justenuffhumor for Mt. Brilliant. In 2000, Frato recommended a short list of stallions from which Ramsey and farm manager Mark Partridge chose El Prado.

One of the appeals of El Prado was that, as a son of Sadler’s Wells and a grandson of Northern Dancer, he brought a five-deep line of male champions to the mating, Ramsey said. Kitten’s Joy added another generation of champions with his 2004 Eclipse Award.

“I had a choice of keeping either him or Roses in May,” Ramsey said, referring to his 2005 Dubai World Cup winner. “The Japanese wanted both of them, and I was offered a huge price. We elected to go on and sell them Roses in May, who’s done well in Japan, because Roses in May was by Devil His Due. The gene pool, to me, wasn’t there for Roses in May like it was for Kitten’s Joy.”

Ramsey said Kitten’s Joy is too valuable to him to sell or shuttle, and he eschewed the idea of partners in ownership.

“If my stallion had been syndicated with 40 or 60 people sending their mares to him, I could not have selected them,” he said. “Right now, we’ve turned down some Grade 1 mares. That might sound stupid, but we have. We don’t want an old mare that is going to wear the stallion out and still not get in foal. Now that we’re getting much higher quality mares to him, and we’ve still not lowered our standards in regards to the type of pedigree, I think we have a high degree of confidence going forward that we can duplicate what he did in 2011.”

Kitten's Joy pedigree