05/02/2014 7:37PM

Vicar’s in Trouble an improbable Derby contender for Ramseys

Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
After failing to impress as a yearling, Vicar's in Trouble is now a multiple graded stakes winner and Kentucky Derby entrant.

Mark Toothaker couldn’t get anyone to look at the horse.

Part of the sales team at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm of Lexington, Ky., Toothaker was in Opelousas, La., during September 2012 with a small consignment of yearlings to support the inaugural Equine Sales Company of Louisiana yearling sale. Among the group was a diminutive Louisiana-bred colt from the second crop of young Spendthrift sire Into Mischief.

"He was very small as a yearling,” Toothaker said of the colt who would become Kentucky Derby contender Vicar’s in Trouble. "I really was barely getting any interest whatsoever."

The night before the sale, Toothaker went back to his hotel room, and got a call from Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill.

“He said, ‘Did you see that? We had an Into Mischief today who just ran off the screen,’” Toothaker recalled.

The morning after eventual Grade 1 winner Goldencents rolled in his debut by 7 1/4 lengths at Del Mar, Toothaker went back to the sale grounds to try to drum up some interest in the Into Mischief colt, then began reaching out to contacts by phone. One of those, Clyde Taylor, purchased the colt for just $8,000, with former NFL quarterback and Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association board member Jake Delhomme bidding on his behalf, according to Toothaker. The colt then went to trainer Al Pike to be broken.

"Al called me and said, 'I've got a lot of horses in this barn that cost a lot of money, and this horse is like half their size,’” Toothaker recalled. However, once Pike began breezing the colt, his tune changed. “He said, ‘I told all my help, you'd better go to rubbing on that horse, because he's better than anything else we've got in the whole barn.’”

Pike, as agent, consigned the colt to the following spring’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training, where Ken and Sarah Ramsey purchased him for $80,000.

The development of Vicar’s in Trouble has been unusual for the Ramseys, whose standout runners in recent years are typically turf and/or synthetic stars by their homebred champion Kitten’s Joy, leading general sire of 2013. Of the four horses the Eclipse Award-winning owners and breeders have started in the Kentucky Derby to date, three were homebreds by that stallion. But this year, the Ramseys arrived on the Triple Crown prep scene with a diverse group of horses by three different stallions – Vicar’s in Trouble; We Miss Artie, by Artie Schiller; and Bobby’s Kitten, by Kitten’s Joy.

“My goal was to get them in the Derby,” Ken Ramsey said. “So we sat down and looked at each horse and figured out which race he was most likely to win.”

We Miss Artie, a son of a Breeders’ Cup Mile winner who has sired his best runners to date on turf and synthetic, earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on Turfway Park’s Polytrack. Bobby’s Kitten was routed to the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, also on Polytrack, but failed to fire and was taken off the Derby trail.

As a Louisiana-bred eligible for lucrative state incentives, and with a pedigree that suggested an affinity for running on the dirt – the colt’s broodmare sire is Florida Derby winner Vicar – Vicar’s in Trouble wound up based at Fair Grounds with trainer Mike Maker.

“Vicar’s in Trouble, we didn’t really know what we had,” Ramsey continued. “And the reason we went to Fair Grounds to start with was he was a Louisiana-bred, and we like to spot them where they can win. So he went over and won [a maiden special weight last December] by 13 lengths, and we said, ‘What have we got here?’ And I checked to see what he beat, and quite frankly, there wasn’t too much behind him. So I ran him back in the [Grade 3] Lecomte [Stakes in January], and he won by 6 3/4 lengths, and that was against open company, stretching out, and against winners the first time and all that – and I said, ‘Hey, we may have a quality animal here.’”

After finishing third in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes – a race in which he drew an outside post, and came out with a popped abscess – the colt romped by 3 1/2 lengths in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in his final prep.

Vicar’s in Trouble will be the third Kentucky Derby starter from just two crops sired by Into Mischief, who put Goldencents and Vyjack in the field last year. The Harlan’s Holiday horse would be the second consecutive Spendthrift stallion to sire a Derby winner, joining stalwart Malibu Moon with Orb last year.

Spendthrift has another rooting interest of its own this year, as Blue Grass runner-up Medal Count will carry the farm’s colors in the Run for the Roses. Toothaker called the Derby experience this year following Vicar’s in Trouble and Medal Count “absolutely amazing.”

"That's why we're all in the business,” he said. “It is a business of hope."