02/12/2003 1:00AM

Two main shots at big dream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Growing up in Artemus, Ky. (pop. 500), Ken Ramsey heard much about Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. When he was 6, he accompanied an aunt to Louisville and insisted on seeing the track. They taxied to the main gate on Central Avenue, where they peeked between the bars and caught a glimpse of the twin spires, and Ramsey knew he would be back some day.

He has been back, and in triumph. His stable led the list at the past six meetings, but he has never run a horse in the Big Dance, and that remains his consuming passion. This weekend he should know if he finally has a chance, for he is running a pair of highly regarded prospects in important Kentucky Derby preps.

Here at Gulfstream Park, his Ten Cents a Shine, with two victories and a second in three starts, will be one of the favorites in the Grade 1, $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes under Jerry Bailey. On Sunday, at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, his Badge of Silver, undefeated in two starts, will be one of the favorites in the $150,000 Risen Star Stakes with Robby Albarado up.

Ten Cents a Shine, a Devil His Due colt trained by Ken McPeek, was purchased privately for $50,000. He is a stretch-runner, coming from far back with a strong closing punch that earned him a dead heat for first two weeks ago with the well-regarded Senor Swinger in his 3-year-old debut.

Badge of Silver, a Silver Deputy colt purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for $85,000, is trained by Ronny Werner. He has considerable speed. He won his first start impressively last spring, cracked a cannon bone, and was sidelined the rest of the season. He returned with style last month, winning by seven lengths.

Ten Cents a Shine and Badge of Silver are from a distinctive stable. Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, who is his partner, have 51 horses in training with some 10 trainers. Twenty-one of these are 2-year-olds purchased last year. In earnest pursuit of that Kentucky Derby victory, they will continue to buy yearlings, but are raising some of their own racing stock at a 1,400-acre farm near Lexington, Ky., where they maintain a broodmare band numbering 90.

The Ramseys have been in racing since the early 1970's, when they claimed a horse named Red Redeemer for $1,500 at Miles Park in Louisville. It wasn't an auspicious start. Red Redeemer came back lame in the race, and was blind in one eye. He never won a race for them, but the competitive Ramseys were not discouraged.

"Our trainer was a colorful character named Cadillac Jack Sowards," Ken Ramsey recalled. "I wanted to learn as much as I could about racing, so I spent more time at the barn in the mornings with Jack and eventually applied for a trainer's license.

"The first horse I saddled was named Party Airs. He won at River Downs one afternoon and paid $50. I ended my training career after that, but I still keep close to our horses."

Ken Ramsey was in the real estate field for a number of years in Lexington, but became interested in the cellular telephone, which he saw earlier than most as a major development. Sarah Ramsey won a lottery for a cellular phone company license in Georgia 1989, and they were into a new field. They were able to sell the company several years ago for $39 million and traded part of the profits for similar companies in California, Oregon, and Kentucky. They are now heavily involved in that industry and also own radio stations in Lubbock, Texas; Pine Bluff, Ark.; and LaCrosse, Wisc.

With the success of their telephone operation, they were able to invest more in the stable and have developed a staff to assist them. Two people are employed on a full-time basis to search out and identify top prospects at various sales. Another individual takes photos of the horses and sends them to a veterinarian in Sweden who has developed a technique for evaluating horses that is similar in some respects to the work of specialists who measure horses with a tape.

Others on the staff examine the lungs and heart of prospective purchases, while some pay particular attention to obstructions in the epiglottis that affect the clear passage of air.

Ramsey said the work of his group has proven effective in assembling a top-flight stable. While he is enthusiastic about racing, Ramsey is also conservative by nature and will never pay more than $200,000 for a yearling. He is also wary of the 2-year-old market in the belief that many young horses are asked to breeze smartly for the sales and are affected by the effort.

The Ramseys have a third Kentucky Derby nominee in Nothing to Lose, trained by Wayne Lukas. Undefeated on the grass, he won the Tropical Park Derby on New Year's Day and is scheduled to run in next week's Palm Beach Handicap. He will probably remain on the grass and will be at Keeneland this spring for the Transylvania Stakes, but could be switched to the dirt if Lukas sees an opportunity for the transfer.