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The mares who made Kitten's Joy
By Joe Nevills
An old saying goes, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” For Kitten’s Joy, there have been several.
Kitten’s Joy is undoubtedly the driving force behind the rise of owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s breeding program, based in Nicholasville, Ky. In 2013, an army of racehorses by Kitten’s Joy carried the Ramseys to a pair of Eclipse Awards, as the couple won both outstanding owner and outstanding breeder by landslide margins.
Kitten’s Joy’s offspring propelled the 13-year-old son of El Prado and the 2004 champion turf male to the top of the North American general sire list for 2013 with progeny earnings of more than $11.3 million. Those earnings made up the bulk of the Ramseys’ $12.1 million bankroll from their breeding program, which led all North American breeders and ended a 10-year reign at the top by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs. Ramsey-bred runners won 287 of their 2,071 starts in 2013.
“I owe it to Kitten’s Joy,” Ken Ramsey said when explaining his success. “Without Kitten’s Joy, I’m certainly not going to be standing on that stage at the Eclipse Awards two times. I was actually overwhelmed when I found out what the actual vote was [235-4 for owner, 221-21 for breeder, among the finalists]. I was astonished at how lopsided the voting was. We did have a truly good year, the best year we’ve ever had since we’ve been in horse racing.”
All due credit aside, Kitten’s Joy represents only one-third of the equation that produces a prominent runner, much less a stable full of them – the other pieces being the broodmare and a lot of luck.
The Ramseys had firm control of the first two parts, and they have been very successful in identifying the mares to cross with their sire. The list of mares who produced the best runners by Kitten’s Joy is hardly a murderers’ row, largely consisting of horses claimed by the Ramseys or purchased privately for a modest fee.
Once on the track, the progeny of Kitten’s Joy created their own luck, to the tune of 24 stakes winners in 2013.
“The secret to Kitten’s Joy isn’t like trying to decipher the secret to Coca-Cola or the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Ramsey said. “You take the pedigrees and see what the common thread is.”
The trick, it appears, to producing a successful Kitten’s Joy runner is to cross him with a mare who looks very much like him on the page. Of Kitten’s Joy’s five North American Grade 1 winners in 2013, four of them – Admiral Kitten, Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution, and Stephanie’s Kitten – are inbred to Northern Dancer and Roberto in the fourth or fifth generations. Kitten’s Dumplings is inbred to Northern Dancer.
“We pretty much know now what is working with this horse as far as the nicking and the genetics,” said Ramsey Farm manager Mark Partridge. “What works with Kitten’s Joy is usually a well-balanced mare – not too big, not too small, just well-balanced, with a good neck. I don’t like a long or short neck or a long or short back. They have to be pretty strong. The fine-boned mares don’t seem to be working well with him as much as the well-balanced, strong mares.”
Ramsey and Partridge discussed six of the mares who helped establish Kitten’s Joy as an upper-echelon sire in 2013. They are presented in alphabetical order.
B. m., 2004, Grand Slam—Franziska, by Sadler’s Wells
Race record: 10-3-2-2; $68,137
Produce record: 4 foals, 3 starters,
3 winners, 1 stakes winner, 1 graded stakes winner
Dam of Kitten’s Dumplings, Granny Mc’s Kitten
Granny Franny was one of many mares claimed by the Ramseys with their stallion in mind, joining the stable in October 2007 for a $40,000 tag at Belmont Park. All three of her foals to race have been by Kitten’s Joy, and her least successful runner, first foal Irish Grand, has won five races and earned $58,816.
Granny Franny hit her stride with her second foal, Kitten’s Dumplings, whose 2013 campaign included wins in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, the Grade 2 Lake George Stakes, and the Grade 3 Regret Stakes. She was followed by Granny Mc’s Kitten, the winner of the P.G. Johnson Stakes over the summer.
Still owned by the Ramseys, Granny Franny was bred to Kitten’s Joy again for 2014, her fifth time in six matings.
Partridge: “You’ve got the Sadler’s Wells there, so you get into the Northern Dancer. One of the scenarios that’s working with him is the Northern Dancer over Northern Dancer, 4x4, or 4x5 – or in this case, it’s Northern Dancer 4x4x5. These ones that are working, there’s no other inbreeding in there, it’s just the Northern Dancer.
“Granny Franny is a little bit lighter in bone than what I’d like to breed to [Kitten’s Joy], and if you look at Kitten’s Dumplings, she’s the same way. She’s a little light-boned, not a real big filly, but when they’re Grade 1 winners, it doesn’t matter.”
Dk. b. or br. m., 2002, by Wild Again—Lady Madonna, by Chief’s Crown
Race record: 11-0-0-1; $5,881
Produce record: 6 foals, 4 starters, 3 winners, 2 stakes winners
Dam of Queen’splatekitten, Charming Kitten
Iteration was purchased privately in 2006 for $10,000 and was part of the first book for Kitten’s Joy. Her first big hit came with her second foal, Queen’splatekitten, who was a multiple Grade 3-placed stakes winner of $387,313.
However, the mare’s biggest success has come with her fourth foal, the Grade 1-placed stakes winner Charming Kitten. The colt is the most recent offspring of Kitten’s Joy to run in the Kentucky Derby, and the most successful, finishing ninth in 2013. Charming Kitten has won three races and placed in five graded stakes for earnings of $521,850.
Iteration was bred to Kitten’s Joy again for 2014, making it her sixth pairing with the stallion in eight seasons.
Partridge: “It’s a Northern Dancer over Northern Dancer again, 4x5. You have some Nearctic [5x4] in there, and then you’ve got the Hail to Reason [5x5] as well. Nearctic shows up in that one where he hasn’t shown up in the other ones, 5x4. It just seems to be working.
“Physically, Iteration has got a little bit more leg to her, but she’s still a well-balanced mare, good neck. They all pretty much fit the same profile.”
B. m., 2005, by Pulpit—Reach, by Dynaformer
Race record: 4-1-0-0; $19,510
Produce record: 4 foals, 2 starters, 1 winner, 1 graded stakes winner
Dam of Real Solution
Reachfortheheavens’s first foal, a Kitten’s Joy colt, was in the field when Ramsey Farm sold the mare for $11,000 at the 2010 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. fall mixed sale. One breeding season later, Reachfortheheavens was back under the Ramsey colors and that foal had become Italian stakes winner Real Solution.
After returning from his European sojourn, Real Solution staged a 2013 campaign in the United States highlighted by a win in the Grade 1 Arlington Million and placings in two other Grade 1 turf races. He has won four of 10 starts for $731,175.
Reachfortheheavens was bred back to Kitten’s Joy for 2014, marking her fifth trip to the sire in six seasons.
Partridge: “What she’s bringing is the perfect scenario that we’ve been talking about, the Northern Dancer/Roberto, 4x4 on both of them. That’s what I’m looking for. Again, she’s a strong mare, well-balanced, just a perfect mare for him.”
Dk. b. or br. m., 2005, Grand Slam—Mombasa, by Dynaformer
Race record: 11-2-2-1; $45,381
Produce record: 2 foals, 2 starters, 1 winner, 1 graded stakes winner
Dam of Admiral Kitten
Reachinforthestars was claimed by the Ramseys in her debut start for a $25,000 tag in September 2007 at Calder. After winning two of 11 starts over two seasons of racing, she was sent to Kitten’s Joy for a mating that produced Admiral Kitten, the winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes in 2013.
The mare produced one more foal, the 3-year-old Reach for a Kitten, before suffering a fatal bout of colic.
Ramsey: “Grand Slam has worked really well with Kitten’s Joy. When I find a nick that works and I’ve got a horse that I like and I think is going to be a stakes winner, I go out and search and try to buy her sisters or mother, so we try to get a monopoly on the family before the price goes up. Once we figure out the mold that works, we continue on.”
Dk. b. or br. m., 1997, by Unaccounted For—Spend a Dream, by Spend a Buck
Race record: 3-0-0-1; $4,180
Produce record: 7 foals, 6 starters, 4 winners, 1 graded stakes winner
Dam of Big Blue Kitten
The Ramseys claimed Spent Gold at Saratoga in August 1999 for $50,000 in what would be her final start. She was sent to another Ramsey stallion, Catienus, several times before producing her first Kitten’s Joy foal in 2007. That gelding, Powermouse, won five races and earned $94,266.
A second mating produced Spent Gold’s fifth foal, multiple Grade 1 winner Big Blue Kitten. He emerged as one of North America’s elite turf horses in 2013, winning the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational and United Nations Stakes.
While Big Blue Kitten was still an unraced 2-year-old, Ramsey Farm parted with Spent Gold at the 2010 Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $1,000. However, the mare remains a frequent visitor to Kitten’s Joy and was bred to him for 2014.
Partridge: “She fit the same scenario with Northern Dancer and Roberto, identical to the other ones. She is still actually on the farm, but she’s owned by somebody else.”
Unfold the Rose
Dk. b. or br. m., 2004, by Catienus—Bail Out Becky, by Red Ransom
Race record: Unraced
Produce record: 5 foals, 3 starters, 2 winners, 1 graded stakes winner
Dam of Stephanie’s Kitten
Perhaps the most prominent multiple-generation member of the Ramsey breeding program is multiple Grade 1 winner Stephanie’s Kitten, whose parents are both homebreds. Unfold the Rose, an unraced mare by Catienus, is out of the Ramsey-owned Grade 1 winner Bail Out Becky, by Red Ransom.
Stephanie’s Kitten was Unfold the Rose’s second foal, after the mare produced winner Lady Kitten in 2008. Stephanie’s Kitten became one of the 2-year-old filly division’s most imposing figures in 2011, winning the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes and the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Stephanie’s Kitten has continued to excel, scoring multiple stakes wins at 3 and 4, including the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park last year.
Unfold the Rose was sold at the 2011 Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages for $7,000, just months before Stephanie’s Kitten began her breakout 2-year-old campaign. The mare was consigned by Ramsey Farm, as agent, at the 2013 Keeneland November sale in foal to Kitten’s Joy but did not meet her reserve, with a final bid of $325,000.
Ramsey: “We sold Unfold the Rose because she was crooked. I try to put the percentages on my side, so we don’t breed crooked mares. If you breed a crooked mare, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting another crooked mare because that’s a genetic deal. So, we sold her and, of course, she ended up producing a graded stakes winner, and we looked pretty stupid. We actually tried to get her back, and the guy, of course, wanted a fortune for her, but we did work out a foal-share deal, so we brought her back and got her bred to Kitten’s Joy. We didn’t like Unfold the Rose because she’s crooked, but the foal she produced wasn’t crooked. But it was a poor percentage play. We’re still trying to go with straight mares.”
Maybe a little more to it than Northern Dancer 4 or 5 back top and bottom... Like all the generations in between (but can't give up all your secrets) and the careful conformation selection... But the formula of pedigree, conformation, and breeding for two turns turf is probably not a Coke secret recipe under the vault. Just good practice and execution. Fewer people go at with the focus, energy, and resources the Ramseys did. Many breeders get sidetracked down different routes with various hot sires, varying distances, and use mares that wander in or go lame or flop on the track and get to breeding by accident (not design) and they end up pairing with whatever seasons they get in deals or auctions... Just rolling genetic dice instead of making highly rational choices and taking calculated risks like this successful breeding operation.
why not mention the real reason for this years success ? big blue kitten and the real solution never ran on lasix at the age of two. that accounts for three grade 1 victories and two best horses. most of his horses do use lasix at two. big blue kitten's first two races were maiden claimer races. see how he has improved.
Northern dancer northern dancer northern dancer-- just jaw dropping the influence of that sire
Very good article, powers-that-be at DRF. Thanks for making it available to us non-plus members
Thank you to the Ramsey's for giving us a glimpse into the machinations breeding productive race horses. And thank you to Joe Nevills for asking the question....... "how". Bravo !!!
Excellent article. They are picking mares with some stamina so that is refreshing. That Wild Again mare has to be up there in age. Kittens Joy is the best US turf sire I've ever seen. Yes his horses do win on the poly but very few win graded races on the dirt. It is what it is and he's a great sire. The only US turf sire I remember being almost as successful was Theathrical. I know he was an Irish bred but he sired in the US and produced some great horses.
Well written, beautiful and yet concise and thought provoking, really good read, Mr Nevillis