08/22/2013 4:52PM

John P. Sparkman: Kitten’s Joy gives Ramseys a day they’ll never forget

Kevin Coady/Coady Photography
Champion Kitten's Joy has developed into a standout stallion for Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

Kenneth L. Ramsey is one of the luckiest men alive.

Luck, however, often is found at the intersection of opportunity and intelligence, and Ken Ramsey has plenty of both. Born and raised in tiny Artemus, Ky., deep in the hills of Appalachia, Ramsey was smart enough and lucky enough to parlay his stint in the military into graduation from the University of Kentucky courtesy of the GI Bill. Ramsey’s education and ebullient personality were a perfect combination for the real estate business, and he reinvested success in real estate into a nascent mobile-phone franchise business in the 1980s.

Ramsey had dabbled in racing during the 1970s, but the year before he sold that mobile phone business for $39 million in 1994, Ramsey and his wife, Sarah Kathern Ramsey, decided to re-enter the racing game at a higher level.

The first horse they bought was a Lear Fan filly purchased for $41,000 at the 1993 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training. Named Kitten’s First in honor of Ken Ramsey’s affectionate nickname for his wife, the filly had talent, winning her first start at 2 for trainer Bill Mott, but she fractured a hip in her second, the Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park, and failed to finish.

Kitten’s First’s champion son, Kitten’s Joy, however, provided the Ramseys with one of the greatest days in the history of American Thoroughbred racing, with three Grade 1 victories Aug. 17. At Saratoga, Kitten’s Joy’s 5-year-old son Big Blue Kitten (out of Spent Gold, by Unaccounted For) won the Sword Dancer Invitational, and 20 minutes later and half a continent away at Arlington Park, the 3-year-old Admiral Kitten (Reachinforthestars, by Grand Slam) won the Secretariat Stakes. Ninety minutes or so after that, the 4-year-old Real Solution (Reachfortheheavens, by Pulpit) won the day’s biggest race, the Arlington Million, via disqualification.

Only one other American stallion has matched Kitten’s Joy’s feat of three Grade 1 winners in one day since 2000. On Sept. 30, 2007, Smart Strike’s son Fabulous Strike won the Vosburgh Stakes, followed on the same Belmont Park card by the victories of his sons English Channel in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational and Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Those three Grade 1 victories in one day helped Smart Strike finish 2007 atop the North American general sire list, and last week’s top-level wins by Big Blue Kitten, Admiral Kitten, and Real Solution propelled Kitten’s Joy to the head of the 2013 list.

The victories of English Channel and Curlin also were important stepping-stones toward Eclipse Awards, but that path might be more difficult for Ramsey’s trio of Kitten’s Joys. It was the second Grade 1 victory for Big Blue Kitten but the first for Admiral Kitten and Real Solution – all on turf – and reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan stands firmly in the path of any aspirant to a statuette as champion turf male.

Kitten’s Joy, by El Prado, earned his turf-male Eclipse Award for the Ramseys in 2004 at the end of a 3-year-old season in which he won six of eight starts, all on turf, including the Grade 1 Turf Classic and the Secretariat. Kitten’s Joy’s record that year perhaps should have been 7 for 8, but he was hemmed in behind the erratic Powerscourt and impeded by the winner Better Talk Now at the top of the stretch in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and his final rally fell 1 3/4 lengths short.

Kitten’s Joy raced only twice at 4, winning the Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders’ Cup Handicap and running second to Powerscourt in the 2005 Million, his last race before retiring due to wear and tear in his left knee. Despite his sterling record of nine wins and four seconds from 14 starts and earnings of $2,075,791, Kentucky commercial breeders showed little interest in Kitten’s Joy because he had committed the cardinal sin of winning all of his races on turf at distances up to 1 1/2 miles.

Ken Ramsey’s solution to that problem was to fill Kitten’s Joy’s book with his own mares. As a result, Ramsey has bred 37 of Kitten’s Joy’s 38 stakes winners from 411 foals ages 3 and up (9 percent), some of them from mares Ramsey claimed at the racetrack. Almost invariably, though, those claimers were from very good female families, and the sires along the bottom line were generally very good, meaning that the genetic potential of the fillies his operation claimed was far higher than average for a claiming filly.

All three of last weekend’s Grade 1 winners more or less fit that pattern. Ramsey claimed Big Blue Kitten’s dam, Spent Gold, who placed once in three starts, for $50,000. Though she is by the moderate sire Unaccounted For, she is a half-sister to stakes winner Clever Tish, by Clever Trick, and her fifth dam is the Occupy mare In the Van. In the Van is the dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Amerivan, by Amerigo, and her stakes-winning siblings Vanilla and Moaning Low. Their descendants include top racehorses Star Standard, Natural Sound, Fair Judgment, and Istidaad.

Admiral Kitten’s dam, Reachinforthestars, a $25,000 claim by the decent sire Grand Slam, is one of two winners out of the unplaced Mombasa, by Dynaformer. Mombasa is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Funistrada, by Fappiano, the second dam of current Grade 2 winner Spring Venture and Grade 3 winner Rahystrada. Rahystrada finished 11th in last week’s Arlington Million, the Rahy gelding’s fourth consecutive start in the race.

Reachinforthestars’s second dam, Mesabi, by Minnesota Mac, is a half-sister to champion and top sire Cozzene from the great family descending from foundation mare Portage made famous by Joseph Roebling and John Nerud.

Reachfortheheavens, by the very good sire Pulpit, was listed as claimed for $25,000 by Reade Baker, but the Ramseys bred her first foal, Real Solution. Reachfortheheavens’s dam, Reach, by Dynaformer, produced only winners but is a half-sister to the dam of Grade 2 winner Lattice and the second dam of 2012 Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes winner Sign. Real Solution’s fourth dam, Alluvial, by Buckpasser, is the dam of champion Slew o’ Gold and Belmont winner Coastal from the great family of Bourtai.

Kitten’s First’s pedigree has improved dramatically since the Ramseys purchased her in 1993. Seven years later, her half-brother Down the Aisle, by Runaway Groom, became a Grade 1 winner on turf. The Ramseys sold Kitten’s First’s first foal, Justenuffheart, by Broad Brush, after she won her first race, and she proceeded to win eight races, including two stakes, and earn $373,229.

Justenuffheart is the dam of 2006 champion 2-year-old filly Dreaming of Anna, by Rahy; her Grade 2-winning full brother, Lewis Michael; and her Grade 2-winning half-brother, Justenuffhumor, by Distorted Humor. Two other daughters of Kitten’s First also have produced stakes winners.

Kitten’s First’s dam, That’s My Hon, by L’Enjoleur, is a half-sister to 1977 Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes winner Road Princess, by Gallant Man, and Grade 3 winner Provante, by Prove It, from a family developed by Elmendorf Farm that includes Racing Hall of Fame member Spectacular Bid.

Regardless of whether Kitten’s Joy ends 2013 as leading sire, his $50,000 stud fee is bound to rise next year. Kitten’s Joy’s progeny have earned $15.1 million (61 percent) of their total earnings of $24.7 million on turf, which is about triple the usual percentage for a top-class American sire. That percentage of turf earnings is higher than his sire, El Prado, who led the sire list by North American earnings in 2002 despite the fact that 45 percent of his progeny’s $83.2 million in career earnings came from grass races.

Although turf sires have been anathema to American breeders for the past several decades, Kitten’s Joy, El Prado’s other top sire son, Medaglia d’Oro, and other versatile young sires like War Front and Tapit may finally be on their way to destroying that irrational prejudice.

With Kitten’s Joy, other breeders may finally be ready to enjoy the luck of the Ramseys.