02/14/2014 12:55PM

Kitten's Joy: Leading sire by earnings, stakes winners; leading turf sire by earnings, average earnings, winners, stakes winners, stakes wins

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Joy Gilbert
Kitten's Joy stands at Ramsey Farm in Nicholasville, Ky.

Leading Kentucky general sire by earnings  and stakes winners
Leading Kentucky juvenile sire by stakes winners (tie)
Leading Kentucky turf sire by earnings, average earnings, winners, stakes winners, and stakes wins

In 2012, Kitten’s Joy reached a level of achievement as a sire that all but a chosen few would consider a career pinnacle. The following season, he topped it.

The son of El Prado finished 2013 as Kentucky’s leading sire by general earnings with $11,326,203, edging out runner-up Speightstown by $71,022. Kitten’s Joy also was Kentucky’s leading sire by number of stakes winners (24), and juvenile stakes winners (tied, five).

However, the stallion’s dominance was most apparent on his signature surface. The champion turf male of 2004 was Kentucky’s leading turf sire by progeny earnings ($8,251,682), average earnings per starter ($47,423), winners (66), stakes winners (19), and stakes wins (27). His progeny’s 2013 turf earnings put him an astounding $4,487,315 ahead of second-place Giant’s Causeway.

The 13-year-old Kitten’s Joy stands at Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Ramsey Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., for an advertised 2014 fee of $100,000. His dominance helped the Ramseys win Eclipse Awards as both outstanding owner and breeder of 2013.

“In my opinion, the hallmark of a great stallion is their progeny, and with Kitten’s Joy, they start early, show quality, and stay sound,” Ken Ramsey said. “In 2013, we bred Kitten’s Joy stakes winners at ages 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. In 2014, I anticipate the ones we’ve bred and raised will continue to fit the mold.”

Kitten’s Joy was represented by five North American Grade 1 winners in 2013, with three occurring Aug. 17 in what has come to be known as the stallion’s signature day: Real Solution (Arlington Million), Admiral Kitten (Secretariat Stakes), and Big Blue Kitten (Sword Dancer Invitational).

Stephanie’s Kitten and Kitten’s Dumplings also racked up Grade 1 wins for Kitten’s Joy in 2013.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the stallion’s career is his age. Kitten’s Joy is one of just three stallions born after 2000 to finish among the top 10 general sires by progeny earnings in 2013, joined by War Front and Tapit.

Knowing the long-term potential he has in the stallion barn, Ramsey’s efforts to maintain his stallion’s vitality have been widely documented, including building the “Kitten’s Spa,” which includes among its amenities an underwater treadmill and a vibrating platform with heat lamps.

“He’s fit; the flesh on him is firm,” Ramsey said of Kitten’s Joy. “I don’t have a dime’s worth of insurance on him. I’d rather take the insurance money and spend it buying more mares to get to him, but he’s as healthy as he could be. We’re trying to take care of the franchise, and we’re planning on a good 2014. There’s an old saying that says if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. He gets the best of everything.”

The stallion’s success has set the table for big changes going forward. Early on, the majority of the elite runners sired by Kitten’s Joy were Ramsey homebreds, but the ratio of mares bred to the stallion has tipped significantly toward outside clients in recent years.

“Two years ago is when Kitten’s Joy got really popular, and we bred 215 mares to him,” said Ramsey Farm manager Mark Partridge. “Three-quarters of them were outside mares. Those horses are all yearlings of 2014. They’re all going to be showing up at the sales. Just unbelievable pedigrees, beautiful mares, good athletic individuals, so it’ll be interesting to see what his sales average does this year. I expect it to rise significantly. So, then next year, when those foals hit the track, I think it’ll be really exciting.”

The auction market is one of the last frontiers left for Kitten’s Joy to conquer. While his progeny have outrun their pedigrees on the track, they generally have struggled to gain traction in the sales ring – bringing solid prices but hardly anything to elicit sticker shock.

That trend showed signs of changing at the recent Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages, where Kitten’s Joy was the leading sire by gross receipts, with 12 mares and short yearlings sold for a total of $982,000.

“People are jumping on the Kitten’s Joy broodmare band now,” Partridge said. “Adena Springs bought one and paid [$170,000]. Calumet bought four out of that sale, so that was nice to see.”

The combination of high-profile mare bookings and an uptick in commercial awareness has Ramsey optimistic heading into this summer and fall’s yearling sale season.

“The pipeline is loaded,” Ramsey said. “He got the best bunch of mares last year he’s ever got, so when those babies hit the ground this year, I’m expecting some big things.”