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Ken & Sarah Ramsey Targeting World's Biggest Races in 2016

Leading Owners Ken and Sarah RamseyAs the breeding season began earlier this week in chilly Kentucky for Kitten’s Joy, the Ramsey Farm’s foundation sire, Ken Ramsey was in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, where he could be heard via mobile phone flipping through the thick dossier of paperwork that keeps track of his worldwide bloodstock and racing prospects. But Ramsey might as well have been in Europe, Australia, South America, or even on an island in the West Indies as he spoke with enthusiasm and ambition about his plans for 2016, because all of those locations represent pushpins on his multi-national map of conquest.

Ramsey will tell you straight off that a number of his equine management decisions aren’t grounded so much in turning a profit as wanting to cross accomplishments off a personal “bucket list” that always seems to be brimming with new challenges.

“We’ve got a big ego,” Ramsey offered with a laugh moments into an interview–the “we” including his wife, Sarah, who partners with him on the Thoroughbred operation’s myriad international endeavors.

“We enjoy the game, and we just have fun just doing our thing.”

It’s been no secret for the past several years that Ramsey covets a win at Royal Ascot, where the closest he’s come to victory was a neck loss by Cannonball (Catienus) in the 2009 G1 Golden Jubilee S. This year he’s upped the ante, publicly declaring that he’s aiming 6-year-old marathoner Charming Kitten (Kitten’s Joy) for not just a score at Ascot in June, but a globetrotting double that would also include capturing Australia’s G1 Melbourne Cup in November.

“We sent Charming Kitten over to Dermot Weld,” Ramsey said. “He’s in quarantine now. His goal is to win the Melbourne Cup. That’s a 2-mile race, and he’s the only active horse in North America that’s won two 2-mile stakes races [the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational and the Jan. 23 H. Allen Jerkens S. at Gulfstream Park]. He’ll be running at Royal Ascot. I left it up to Dermot as to which race to run him in; of course it’ll be one of the long-distance races.”

Ramsey will be represented at Ascot with a homebred turf sprint specialist as well.

“Bobby’s Kitten is already over there with Dermot. His goal is to win at Royal Ascot,” he explained. “From there we’re going to bring him back and run him in the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint going down the hill at Santa Anita. He’s already won that race once [in 2014], and as a matter of fact, this will make the fourth Breeders’ Cup race this horse has been in. This will be his final hurrah. We plan on standing him at stud at the farm next year if all goes well.”

Going the strength-in-numbers route, Ramsey is aiming a slew of other contenders toward Ascot, many of them 2-year-olds who are just going through the naming process with The Jockey Club.

“I’ve got six Kitten’s Joys that we kept [in Europe] after putting them in the Arqana sale last year,” Ramsey said. “We put a hefty reserve on each one of them, figured that all of them wouldn’t sell. So two of them sold out of the six, we got a good price out of those, and the other four we kept. We turned them over to David Lanigan, so he’s training those four, and the goal will be that one of them is also good enough [for Ascot].”

Add to that eight other Kitten’s Joy juveniles currently under the care of Gianluca Bietolini in France and five more that Wesley Ward will condition stateside before shipping overseas. As Ramsey wisecracked–only partly in jest–“I don’t know, we just might be in danger of winning a race over there this year.”

Ramsey’s international plan of attack also includes objectives that might fly beneath the radar of other owners who operate on a similar global scale. He has the March 5 Barbados Gold Cup at Garrison Savannah circled on his calendar, for example, chiefly because Major Marvel (Bernstein) and Sayler’s Creek (Bernstein) have won the past two renewals carrying the red-and-white Ramsey colors.

“Nobody’s ever won it three times in a row,” Ramsey said of the Gold Cup, which is locally considered a Grade 1 race. “We’re not going down there for the purses. Unfortunately, Sayler’s Creek did not get his prep race, and he has not run since winning the Gold Cup last March. It’s probably a little risky taking him down without a prep race, but he’s training really well. Watchyourownbobber (Hard Spun) is going down also. Patrick Husbands will ride whichever one he chooses, and Ricky Walcott will be riding the other one.”

Ramsey said he is leaning against a trip to Dubai for the $30-million World Cup program March 26, but he’s not closing the door entirely. Ramsey said Charming Kitten was invited to compete in the two-mile G2 Dubai Gold Cup, but will opt out because the timing doesn’t mesh well with the horse’s Ascot plans.International Star (Fusaichi Pegasus) could be a sleeper possibility; you can hear it in Ramsey’s voice that he’d like to ship the 4-year-old to Meydan Racecourse, but only if the colt wins commandingly in the GIII Mineshaft H. at the Fair Grounds Feb. 20. International Star was not among the original entries to World Cup night at the first entry stage.

“It’s not totally out of the question, but if I think I could possibly win over there, I’d take him,” Ramsey said. “It’s a long shot, wishful thinking, that we might send International Star over there. Next year might be his year [for Dubai]. I really think he could be a star, and that we’re going to have a lot of fun with this horse this year.”

Before allowing the topic to turn to stateside ambitions for 2016, Ramsey wanted to make particular mention of his intent to establish Kitten’s Joy as a dual-hemisphere stallion even though the sire will remain standing in Kentucky.

“We’ve got 14 foals on the ground already in the Southern Hemisphere,” Ramsey said. “And we’ve got eight more mares that we bred in September in foal to Kitten’s Joy, and they’ll be bred on Southern Hemisphere time. So instead of shuttling the stallion down there, we’re breeding some of our own and we’re going to take them down there and sell them as yearlings at the Magic Millions sale. We’ve got to get a little Kitten’s Joy blood flowing down in Australia. We’ve got some people down in Chile, Peru, Argentina, Australia and Brazil that are interested in them.”

In America, Ramsey estimates that he has about 150 horses in training, with the number fluctuating depending on claiming activity. He outlined the rotation as follows:

• 77 horses with Mike Maker: “He’s kind of the all-around trainer of claiming horses, allowance, stakes horses–he does it all.”

• 25 with Joe Sharp: “He’s come a long way. He’s a protégé of Mike Maker, who’s a protégé of D. Wayne Lukas. So I’m keeping in line with pedigrees of trainers.”

• 17 with Ward, including the five above-mentioned 2-year-olds aiming for Ascot.

• 8 with Chad Brown: “The top turf trainer out there right now.”

• 2 with Todd Pletcher: “It’s not politically correct to say I took Charming Kitten away from him. If we have horses that need to race somewhere else, that’s okay, we’re all team players.”

• “And then we’ve got several on the farm training up in Kentucky, and a bunch of 2-year-olds at Webb Carroll’s training center in South Carolina.

With the exception of Fair Grounds-based Uncle Walter (Uncle Mo), who’s coming off a third-place try in the GIII Lecomte S. and is aiming for the Feb. 20 GII Risen Star S., taking a big swing at this year’s Triple Crown doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Team Ramsey.

“Instead of having prospects, I’ve almost got what you’d call ‘suspects,’” Ramsey deadpanned.

But the GII Louisiana Derby, and the Fair Grounds prep races that precede it, have been good to the Ramsey-Maker tandem in the past two years, as International Star and Vicar’s in Trouble (Into Mischief) have dominated most of the Fair Grounds series of races for 3-year-olds in each of the past two seasons.

Ramsey prefers to focus on the success he’s enjoying in the Florida owner’s standings this year.

We’ve got 20 wins at Gulfstream Park, and my nearest competitor’s only got six, so it looks like the fat lady might have already sung as far as the leading owner title goes down at Gulfstream this winter,” Ramsey said. “I don’t have any competition.”

Considering he is a stickler for long-range planning, Ramsey was asked if he has any plans to diversity the breeding aspect of his operation beyond Kitten’s Joy (two other Ramsey stallions, Catienus and Real Solution, stand at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds and Calumet Farm, respectively).

“I need a couple more stallions on the farm,” Ramsey said. “I’m just too tight to go out and buy one. I was trying to raise one of my own. I’ve got one in the pipeline called Hint of Roses (Tapit). He’s out of Kitten’s Joy’s half-sister (Last Kitten, by Catienus).

“This was the best young horse we had on the farm last year. He was what you would call a wild foal when he was born–big, strong. They called me at one o’clock in the morning [when the colt was foaled] and said, ‘My gosh, this Tapit is something to see, he’s going to be a really, really nice one.’ He has never had a pimple on him all the way through, but he’s been a little bit of a disappointment so far.”

Ramsey recounted the colt’s first four races: Seventh- and sixth-place tries at Churchill Downs last autumn as a juvenile, then a fifth at Gulfstream Jan. 9 in his 3-year-old debut.

“He’s just trying to put it together,” said Ramsey. “He’s out of a mare called Last Kitten, who’s already produced two stakes winners. If we’d have sold him, he’d have probably brought about a million and a half, two million, the way those Tapits are selling. There weren’t any of them out there who looked any better than he did. That’s probably our best stallion prospect.”

It will be difficult for any other stallion to ever reward the Ramseys the way Kitten’s Joy has done, and in that respect there will never be a “replacement.” But that seems fine for the time being, as Ramsey, ever the optimist, continues to plot an international course based on the horse that has been chiefly responsible for his travels around the racing world.

“The breeding season just started Tuesday,” Ramsey enthused. “Kitten’s Joy covered his first mare. He had another one Wednesday and two more were scheduled Thursday. So we’re on track for keeping him in the pipeline.”

-by TD Thorton (@thorntontd)/



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