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Breeders’ Cup: Ramsey brand continues to make a name for itself
All things considered, Ken Ramsey would rather let his horses do the talking. But since they can’t – talk, that is – Ramsey is more than happy to share a few thoughts on their behalf.
“Yes, I’ve been told I’ve got a big mouth,” Ramsey said with a laugh earlier this week, as if conceding the grass was green.
It would be one thing if Ramsey’s nearly constant stream of homespun patter dangled feebly without a point, like some cracker barrel filibuster delivered by an old soldier bemoaning the loss of the good old days. However, Ramsey’s rap about his horses is backed to the hilt by a considerable amount of walk, as evidenced by his seven starters in a variety of Breeders’ Cup races on Friday and Saturday.
Ramsey and his wife of 55 years, Sarah Kathern, parlayed a small fortune earned from the sale of their cellular companies into their very own Thoroughbred kingdom on a farm in Nicholasville, to the south of Lexington. The reigning monarch is Kitten’s Joy, a 12-year-old stallion and Eclipse Award champion turf male of 2004, whose sons and daughters have carried the Ramseys to the upper reaches of North America’s owners and breeders.
The Ramseys have branded nearly all of their horses with a play on the name of Kitten’s Joy, and with each of those names comes a story.
For instance, they have two going in the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Kitten Kaboodle, winner of the Grade 3 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, is easy to figure out, since she is out of a mare by Grand Slam. Granny Mc’s Kitten, who won the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, hits closer to home.
“She is named in honor of my sister, Lou Ann, who married a fellow called Paul McElvain,” Ramsey said. “Her grandkids all call her ‘Granny Mac,’ and she’s got that on her license plate. I probably should have spelled it a little bit differently on the name I submitted to The Jockey Club. People have been calling the filly ‘Granny MC’ and ‘Granny Mick.’ My sister and her son, Stevie, will be flying up from Florida to attend the Breeders’ Cup, so I’ll be checking with the announcer at Santa Anita to make sure he gets it right.”
Bobby’s Kitten, from the Chad Brown wing of the vast Ramsey stable, won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes impressively at Belmont Park to punch his ticket for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, also on Friday. He is named for the late Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
“Bobby was Chad’s mentor and a good friend of mine,” Ramsey said. “He trained for me for a long time. I guess the best one was Precious Kitten, but he also had Badge of Silver and one of my Breeders’ Cup starters, Nothing to Lose. As a matter of fact, he advised me to bet on him that day, and I did.”
They got 4-1 in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Lone Star Park.
“Coming around the turn for home, one of his hind shoes flew off and he started spinning his wheels. That was the end of that.”
Kitten’s Dumplings, a full sister to Granny Mc’s Kitten, earned her shot at the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday with her victory in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 12. She already had won a couple of graded stakes and was fourth as the favorite in the Del Mar Oaks, so Ramsey figured she deserved the chance.
“My wife’s mother was named Myrtle Broughton, and she makes the best chicken and dumplings you ever ate. We have a video of her making dumplings from scratch.
“I’m not a dumpling fan because it’s made basically out of white flour and I’m a health nut,” Ramsey noted. “I don’t eat anything except whole wheat bread, and there’s a bunch of other stuff I avoid. But because the filly is out of a mare named Granny Franny, and all her grandkids called her Granny Broughton, my wife thought this would be a good filly to name for her mother.”
The Ramseys are both from southeastern Kentucky.
“My wife is a coal miner’s daughter,” Ramsey said. “Her father was injured in a coal mine when a slate fall crippled him up when it fell on his hip. They thought he was going to die, but he recovered, and he did all right except he had a stiff hip and a stiff knee the rest of his life, so he had to sort of swing that leg when he walked.”
Clarence Ramsey, Ken’s father, was the youngest of seven children.
“My daddy always told me and younger brother and sister that he tried to get a good education so he didn’t have to work in the coal mines,” Ramsey said.
“He was a heavy-duty mechanic on bulldozers, shovels, and cranes who worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority. I think he worked on about seven or eight dams the TVA constructed.
“My mother’s father, Bradley Stewart, was what they called a section foreman on the L&M Railroad that ran through our town of Artemus,” Ramsey went on. “That spur was put in there to get the coal out of Knox County and adjacent Harlan County. In fact, there was a siding right down below my house where they parked the empty coal gondolas. It was a thriving, booming little town when I grew up, but not anymore.”
Ramsey left Artemus by way of the U.S. Navy, in which he served on the deck crew of an aircraft carrier.
“I like to say I gave my hearing for my country,” he said.
Ramsey’s competitive nature found fertile ground in a naval officer candidate school, from which he graduated, and blossomed in the trucking and real estate business before he and his wife hit it big with cellular franchises.
“I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1958 with a degree in personnel management,” Ramsey said. “We’re known as the ‘Big Blue,’ and when it comes to basketball we don’t take a second seat to anyone. But we’re in the powerful Southeastern Conference, so when it comes to football we’re up against three or four teams always in the national top ten.”
This explains Big Blue Kitten, winner of the United Nations and the Sword Dancer last summer and one of two for the Ramseys on Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the race that got away from Kitten’s Joy in the bog at Lone Star Park in 2004 when he was upset by Better Talk Now. To say Ken would like to nail this one is an understatement. The Ramseys will also start Real Solution, winner of the Arlington Million on the disqualification of The Apache.
From seven starts Big Blue Kitten has four wins this year with narrow losses in the Grade 1 Turf Classic and Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes. The Big Blue football squad is 1-6, with a lone win over Miami of Ohio, although they did manage to hold Alabama to 48 points. Not long after Big Blue Kitten runs in the Turf on Saturday, Kentucky will take the field in Lexington against Alabama State.
“I will be giving my tickets to someone else, since I’ll be in sunny California,” Ramsey said.
As for Real Solution, the horse with no Kitten to his name …
“I was partners in a stallion with Brereton Jones,” Ramsey said, “and his advice to me was that you always wanted to put the name of your stallion in the names of your best foals. We started out putting Kitten in the names of the best ones and Joy in the names of the others, and for the most part we were right in our evaluations.
“By the time I got to the third crop, I thought we were kind of running it into the ground and people had heard enough about the Kitten,” he said. “Real Solution was from that crop. Another one was named Gung Ho. When Gung Ho won a stakes race, I got a call from a woman who said she didn’t know he was a Kitten’s Joy until it was too late, otherwise she would have bet on him. After that I went back to putting Kitten in their names.”
Finally, We Miss Artie, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, is the only one of the seven Ramsey runners in a dirt race. He will be facing Champagne winner Havana and Hopeful Stakes winner Strong Mandate in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“My wife’s first cousin Jessie Ignano, who lives up in Michigan, was married to a fellow named Artie, a very popular guy who ended up developing brain cancer and passed away a couple of years ago,” Ramsey said. “When We Miss Artie runs, they load up a couple of vans with friends and drive to the nearest OTB to bet on him.”
Not so coincidentally, We Miss Artie’s sire is Artie Schiller, winner of the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Ramsey will turn 78 on Sunday. Whether he has a bountiful Breeders’ Cup to celebrate remains to be seen, but he is determined to enjoy every minute. As hard as Ramsey plays at breeding and running his horses, neither is he shy when the windows open. He offered his top-down assessment of his Breeders’ Cup seven.
“Bobby’s Kitten has got the tactical speed you need,” he said, “and when Javier Castellano pushes the button, I expect him to accelerate like he did when he won the Pilgrim by 6 1/4 lengths. He’s my first choice.
“My second choice would be Real Solution,” Ramsey continued. “He’s been training great for Chad. And then Kitten Kaboodle is probably third, with Big Blue Kitten right in there also. Granny Mc’s Kitten is kind of a question mark after her last race, but she could get a piece of it. Kitten’s Dumplings is a 3-year-old running against older horses, and that’s not the best way to try and win, kind of like a high school senior going against college for the first time. But she’s got a good turn of foot, and I’ve got Joel Rosario to ride her.
“As for We Miss Artie, after he won the Breeders’ Futurity we started looking for some grains of dirt in his pedigree,” Ramsey said. “We could have run him on the turf, but I don’t think he’s got a chance of beating Bobby’s Kitten. Besides, the Juvenile is $2 million, and We Miss Artie’s already got 10 points toward getting in the Kentucky Derby. That’s the race I want to win more than anything else.”
Jay, do you know how the Ramseys got Kitten's Joy, I looked up the auctions history and comes as a RNA at OBS 2003
The true gentleman, meet him several years ago @ Gulfstream. He saw a friend of mine and myself standing watching the races. At the time I had a back problem, he noticed, came over and offered us his seats, insisted. He is so devoted to his wife which is wonderful. A "Man's Man"..........Dan Martin
Great story. I loved Kitten's Joy on the track,and now I'm a fan of the Ramseys too. I hope they have a big day at the Breeders' Cup!
Looks like he is a good handicapper as well....unless one of the euros is a monster Bobby's Kitten is a complete stand out!
Thanks for the great article, Jay. I knew all these Kitten horses had rich stories behind their names, and it was fascinating and endearing to learn about them. Ramsey is definitely one of the game's most interesting characters, and his dedication and support of his stallion in a market where many would have considered him unfashionable is admirable and has clearly made him the last one laughing.
Kentucky Breeders take notes. The only way to make money in this game is to gamble. It's a game of chance after all.