05/02/2016 4:55PM

Sires of the 2016 Kentucky Derby: Kitten's Joy

Barbara D. Livingston
Kitten's Joy

Ken Ramsey has never hesitated to support his homebred pride and joy, turf champion and leading sire Kitten’s Joy, with the lion’s share of the mares from his own broodmare band, and he has been rewarded for his faith with many high-end runners. Still, one target remains elusive. He’s brought three homebred colts by the stallion to the Kentucky Derby, with all of them running unplaced.

:: Sires of the 2016 Kentucky Derby | Download the Derby Sire Guide

This year, Ramsey will again watch a son of Kitten’s Joy carry his distinctive red-and-white silks at Churchill Downs. However, this one came to his stable via a different route, with Ramsey supporting his stallion via the claim box. Oscar Nominated, bred by Amerman Racing, was claimed by Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker for $75,000 – less than Kitten’s Joy’s advertised stud fee of $100,000 – out of a maiden win last October at Belmont Park. In April, he earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby by winning the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes by a head at Turfway Park.

“I wanted the horse because I liked the breeding on him,” Ramsey said. “I claimed him from a real good outfit that’s kind of hard to improve on. I put up $75,000 for him, and he fits our program well. When I see one out there that I think can be improved on a little bit, if he’s trending upward, I always try to get him for the stallion. That’s a Grade 3 today and that promotes my stallion.”

Oscar Nominated turned in close runner-up efforts in his first two races for Ramsey and Maker before winning the Black Gold Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs on the Fair Grounds turf. He successfully stretched out to 1 1/16 miles to win the Spiral, contested on Polytrack. A chestnut colt with a white stripe on his face, built in the mold of his sire, Oscar Nominated will now be a $200,000 supplement to the Derby, where he stretches out to 1 1/4 miles.

“He’s a Kitten’s Joy,” Maker said. “They’re gonna be better when they go longer.”

Kitten’s Joy won 9 of 14 starts, never finishing worse than second on turf, and earned $2,075,791. He earned a divisional Eclipse Award for Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, by winning six graded stakes during his 3-year-old season in 2004, with Grade 1 triumphs in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational against older horses and the Secretariat Stakes, and a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star Park. His other victories that season came in the Virginia Derby, American Turf, Palm Beach Stakes, and Tropical Park Derby, all graded stakes. Remarkably, his six graded wins came on six different turf courses. He won the following season’s Grade 2 Firecracker Stakes and finished second in the Arlington Million before his retirement.

A son of El Prado standing at Ramsey Farm, Kitten’s Joy was North America’s leading general sire in 2013 and has led the turf sire list three consecutive years. The Ramseys breed and have campaigned many of their champion’s offspring, including Eclipse Award winner Big Blue Kitten, two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Stephanie’s Kitten, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Bobby’s Kitten, Arlington Million winner Real Solution, and Grade 1 winners Kitten’s Dumplings and Admiral Kitten.

The Ramseys were Eclipse Award finalists for outstanding owner and outstanding breeder in 2015 and have won the outstanding owner award four times and the breeder award twice, sweeping both categories in 2013 and 2014.

Big Blue Kitten and Stephanie’s Kitten exemplified the longevity of their sire’s offspring when they were multiple Grade 1 winners last year at ages 7 and 6, respectively. Big Blue Kitten, who has earned more than $2.9 million, will have one more campaign this year, this time in the colors of Calumet Farm, which purchased him at the end of last season. Calumet also has developed into a major supporter of Kitten’s Joy – it stands Real Solution and will stand Big Blue Kitten upon his retirement.

Of course, Kitten’s Joy’s offspring have excelled on turf, and how he’ll run on dirt is the major question Oscar Nominated will have to answer when he makes his first start on the surface in the Kentucky Derby.

“I don’t know if the track over there will suit him or not, but a lot of the turf horses and Polytrack horses like the surface over at Churchill Downs,” Ramsey said. “We’ll be in there with a shot.”