01/06/2016 12:32PM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Big Blue Kitten

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photos

In September 2014, Ramsey Farm announced that their homebred ridgling Big Blue Kitten would be retired to stand stud for the 2015 breeding season in Kentucky, but by the time the breeding season rolled around, the decision had been made to bring Big Blue Kitten back for another racing season.

It wasn’t an obvious choice – Big Blue Kitten would be racing as a 7-year-old, an age when many horses are in decline – but it was a good one. Big Blue Kitten put together the best campaign of his career, a season so strong it earned him his first chance at an Eclipse Award as North America’s leading older male turf horse.

Big Blue Kitten made six 2015 starts, won half of them, finished second twice, and capped his year with a third behind Found and Golden Horn in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. It’s fair to say the old man was better than ever: In his first Turf try, in 2013, he had finished eighth.

After unsaddling in the falling Keeneland darkness Oct. 31, Big Blue Kitten pulled down a curtain on a crazy career for the Ramseys, who privately sold him to Calumet Farm. Big Blue Kitten will race for Calumet in 2016.

By the Ramseys’ excellent stallion Kitten’s Joy and out of the Unaccounted For mare Spent Gold, Big Blue Kitten first started during the winter of 2011 with a reputation for running – to be frank – not very fast. Measuring Big Blue Kitten through his morning work, trainer Chad Brown’s team concluded Big Blue Kitten would not amount to much. Big Blue Kitten debuted in a $35,000 maiden-claimer at Gulfstream Park and lost.

But Big Blue Kitten won at the same level in his second start, won his third race in another claimer, won fourth start in allowance company, and his fifth in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga. Brown is a fine judge of horseflesh, and knew what he first saw in Big Blue Kitten, but heart and desire aren’t easily measured during morning work, and that’s what Big Blue Kitten possessed in spades. Brown has called him the hardest-trying horse he has trained.

Big Blue Kitten has career earnings just short of $3 million, and earned $1.42 million of that in 2015 alone. Big Blue Kitten started his 2015 campaign with a going-away win in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at a nine-furlong distance short of his best. His rally started too late and fell short of catching stablemate Slumber in the Grade 1 Manhattan over 1 ¼ miles on the Belmont Stakes card, but he turned the tables on Slumber winning the 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 United Nations. The Pizza Man nipped him by a neck in the Grade 1 Arlington Million over 1 ¼ miles, but Big Blue Kitten bounced right back beating Slumber again in the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

A half-mile into the BC Turf, Big Blue Kitten and regular rider Joe Bravo had one horse beat, but that is how the horse has always gone about his business. In each of his 20 starts since the 2012 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, Big Blue Kitten passed rivals from the half-mile home, always coming forward, reaching for the wire, and here again he ran steadily toward the front, and though Big Blue Kitten could not catch Golden Horn and Found at Keeneland, rest assured he tried, and tried mightily.