HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Poised to win an Eclipse Award for the third time as the leading owner in North America, Ken Ramsey’s amazing year will come full circle Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The 15th renewal of the Claiming Crown returns to Gulfstream for a second consecutive year and Ramsey will be represented with five horses including defending champions Brother Bird and Bernie the Maestro.
“We’re coming down to definitely try to hang on to the title we earned at the Claiming Crown,” Ramsey said. “Out of the six we ran in last year we got four wins, a second and a third. I don’t know if we’re going to do that well this time, but we’re trying. We’re going to be well represented.
The charismatic Kentuckian, who visited Gulfstream's winner's circle 43 times last year, reached his goal this year of winning every owner's title where he raced in grand style.
Starting last December at Gulfstream, Ramsey earned championships in eight meets at five racetracks in the East, Midwest and South, breaking or establishing records seven times. There were 43 wins at Gulfstream; 25 at the Keeneland spring meet; 32 in 38 days in the spring at Churchill Downs, topping a mark that was set in a 93-day meet; 22 at Saratoga Race Course; nine at Kentucky Downs; six at Churchill’s inaugural September meet; and 17 at Keeneland this fall.
Ramsey made it a clean sweep by taking Churchill’s fall meet with 19 wins, extending his record for track titles to 21 and becoming the first ever to win three in one calendar year.
On the year, he is second with 213 wins, but leads all owners with a North American-record $11,835,142 in purses earned, topping the $11,133,785 set by Frank Stronach in 2000.
In addition, Ramsey is the leading owner on the continent with 40 stakes wins and 17 graded stakes wins, including six Grade 1 races – three of them coming within two hours on the afternoon of August 17: Real Solution (Arlington Million) and Admiral Kitten (Secretariat) in Chicago, and Big Blue Kitten (Sword Dancer) at Saratoga.
“He brings his horses, and he runs them,” said Chad Brown, who trains both Real Solution and Big Blue Kitten. “One of the sport’s rising stars, Brown, 35, earned his first victory as a trainer in November 2007 with Dual Jewels, a horse owned by Ramsey.
“From having just a couple of horses with me to, right now, about a dozen horses, he’s not only a great client of mine but a great owner for the game in general. He’s taken some tough beats and he handles it well, with me anyway. He’s been on top and he’s won a lot of big ones. I think he’s a great sportsman.”
Leading owner at Gulfstream in 2009, Ramsey ended Frank Calabrese’s three-year hold on the title last winter.
“To put [the year] in perspective, you’d have to start out with Gulfstream. I think you have to put an asterisk beside it, because it’s the first time the meet started on December 1. I had won the owner’s title before, but Frank Calabrese has pretty much had his own way for a few years. We got that taken care of. Am I going to defend my title? Seeing that Frank has run away with it since he started staying year-round in Florida, he’s probably cleaned house while we’re gone.”
Despite all his success this year, Ramsey, an Eclipse Award winner in 2004 and 2011, plans to take a much different approach in 2014, emphasizing a smaller number of races on some of the sport’s biggest stages.
“I’ve put a whole lot of work into spotting these horses around, and to do what we’ve done, it’s a numbers game,” said Ramsey. “You have to claim a lot of horses to stay on top of it. Next year, I decided we set the bar high enough with all the owner’s titles, we’re going to try to do more quality instead of so much quantity, although we’ve had a quality year with all the money we’ve earned and the stakes wins. I just keep pushing.
“Next year, I’m going to concentrate again on the amount of money, but I’m going to try to earn it by spotting my horses around the big races. I was sitting around the other day figuring out if I had anything I could win the Dubai World Cup with. Naturally, the Triple Crown would be nice to get in there, and the Travers. Basically, any race that’s a million dollars or more we’re going to try to figure out if we can get a hose good enough to qualify to get in it. We would really like to win the Melbourne Cup down in Australia, and I have to win a race over at Royal Ascot, so you’ve got to have quality.”
Ramsey, who has been married to his wife, Sarah, for 55 years, is already looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby with Bobby’s Kitten, a Grade 3 winner who ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 2, and possibly Grade 1 winner We Miss Artie.
“We could have another sleeper or two that just hasn’t woken up yet or maybe just broke his maiden,” Ramsey said, “but I don’t have any top-notch 2-year-olds on the dirt right now that I can point to. I’d say Bobby’s Kitten is probably our best shot.
“We’re going to run him once or twice down in Florida, bring him up to Keeneland and put him in the Blue Grass. That’s the plan. If he can be first or second there, he’d have enough points to get in the Derby. Then, we’ll take him over to Churchill Downs and see how he works out over that powdery little track over there. It’s kind of a little different.”
Another change for 2014 is the stud fee for Ramsey’s flagship stallion, Kitten’s Joy, who will stand for $100,000 in 2014, double his 2012 and 2013 rate. The 2004 male turf champion, Kitten’s Joy topped the general sire list for North American stallions in progeny earnings, stakes wins and Grade 1 winners.
It has been quite a success story for Ramsey and Kitten’s Joy, foaled in 2001 by Cesarean section out of the mare Kitten’s First, who was nearly put down eight years earlier after being injured in a stakes race at Monmouth Park. Ramsey also tried to sell Kitten’s Joy but kept him when the colt didn’t reach his $99,000 reserve.
Kitten’s Joy stands at Ramsey’s farm in Nicholasville, Ky., where Ramsey, his son Jeff and farm manager Mark Partridge are meticulous about choosing mares.
“It’s worked out well,” Ramsey said. “It’s our breeding, through and through. We raised him here on the farm. We have refused to shuttle the horse. I have been picky, picky, picky on the mares he’s been bred to. Matter of fact, I’ve turned down some Grade 1 mares because we’ve got a model we look for. We’ve got 100 percent control, and we don’t intend to relinquish that. That’s how we’ve done it, and I don’t plan on changing. In other words, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”