01/07/2010 12:00AM

Ramsey hits jackpot buying Furthest Land


ARCADIA, Calif. - Ken Ramsey has never been afraid of a gamble, on or off the racetrack.

To support his stallions, Ramsey is constantly looking for broodmare prospects, sometimes going so far as to claim mares with appropriate bloodlines. At the racetrack, he knows his way around a bet or two.

So what were he and trainer Mike Maker doing in late October 2008, plunking down $35,000 to claim Furthest Land, a 3-year-old gelding who had been running in sprints at Belmont Park?

"He was really well-bred," Ramsey said.

At the most, the acquisition seemed like a claim that could help Ramsey maintain his position as a leading owner at tracks such as Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Instead, the purchase led to a milestone win for Ramsey in a tale that is far from finished.

Furthest Land has become a synthetic track specialist, winning all three of his starts on such surfaces, including a 21-1 upset in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. Considering Furthest Land also won on two synthetic tracks in Kentucky, the win does not seem like a fluke.

This winter and spring, Ramsey and Maker will find out how far that preference will take Furthest Land. Saturday, Furthest Land is back at Santa Anita for the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, a Grade 2 over 1 1/16 miles that represents California's first major handicap race of the year. Ramsey and Maker are hoping it is the first race in an early-season schedule that could lead to the Dubai World Cup in March.

"We got lucky," Ramsey said of the claim. "But you've got to put yourself in a position to be lucky."

With the $150,000 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 7 on Furthest Land's schedule, and the Dubai World Cup on March 27 not that far off, Ramsey and Maker say they think they have a gelding who can continue to surprise.

"I think we've got a big shot in Dubai," Ramsey said.

Last summer, they were just happy to have a big shot in the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park. Furthest Land, by Smart Strike, repaid his claiming price and more by winning 5 of his first 7 starts for Ramsey and Maker. The sequence was highlighted by a win in an optional claimer on Polytrack at Keeneland in April, his debut on that surface, and a win in the minor Golden Bear Stakes at Indiana Downs, which was scheduled for turf.

But Furthest Land was fourth of six as the 4-5 favorite in the Claiming Crown Jewel in July over a dirt track that Maker later said the gelding did not handle. Two months passed before Furthest Land raced again, returning on a synthetic track in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park. It was that result that put him on his current path.

Dismissed at 6-1, Furthest Land rallied from fifth in a field of nine to win by a neck. Ramsey said he loved what he saw that day, in several ways.

"We thought we had a surface advantage," he said. "I bet on him pretty good."

Furthest Land's appearance in the Breeders' Cup was a calculated risk, Ramsey said. The stable thought Cannonball, in the BC Turf Sprint, was its best chance of the weekend. He finished third in the day's third race. In the seventh race, Furthest Land was the third-longest shot in a field of 10.

Ramsey feared Mastercraftsman, an Irish import who was favored in the BC Dirt Mile. But jockey Julien Leparoux, a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey of 2009, kept Furthest Land near the pace throughout, waited briefly in traffic on the turn, and took the lead in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length over Ready's Echo.

There was no great betting score for Ramsey that day, he says, just the satisfaction of winning his first Breeders' Cup race. The title complemented his success from 2004, when he was honored with the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding owner, the year his Kitten's Joy ran second in the BC Turf at Lone Star Park.

Ramsey has already conquered the Dubai World Cup, in 2005 with Roses in May, who was second in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park in 2004. But Roses in May started out with high expectations - especially with that name - and went on to succeed at the highest level.

Getting there with Furthest Land, which seemed improbable a year ago, is starting to become a reality.

"We thought we could stretch him out," Maker said of his first days with Furthest Land. "Mr. Ramsey picked him out. He was a young, improving horse we thought could run two turns.

"He's at his best on the synthetic tracks," Maker said. "He seems to relish it. He's a pretty good turf horse, as well. We got lucky and won that stakes that came off the turf at Indiana."

Furthest Land has not started since the BC Dirt Mile, which improved his record to 8 wins in 16 starts and $869,689. He has worked steadily since late November, first in Kentucky and in recent weeks at Gulfstream Park.

The BC Dirt Mile was the biggest win for Maker, 40, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas and Dallas Stewart. Maker has 38 horses in training in Florida this winter. The son of a trainer who grew up around racing, Maker says the win has not changed his outlook on the sport or his stable.

"It feels like a great accomplishment," he said. "I've been in the business my whole life. My father was a trainer. I worked for Wayne, and we had had a lot of wins. You never know if you'll have a chance to win the Breeders' Cup."