No matter how many records he shatters, owner Ken Ramsey is always working his way up to the next level.
On Oct. 20, Ramsey and his wife Sarah recorded their 13th victory of the Keeneland fall meet when their homebred Captain Cook scored a frontrunning four-length victory in the 10th and final race.
With the performance, the Ramseys broke the record for most wins by an owner during the fall meet that they reached in 2012 and shared with Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Roberts (1968).
"We're not happy with it...we're trying to raise the bar even higher," said Ramsey with a laugh when asked about his record-breaking status on the morning of Oct. 23. "As we speak right now, I'm going over through the condition book to see which of my horses fit in the Saturday (Oct. 26) races. We may have a banner day out there for the (meet) finale."
Among the Ramseys' Keeneland fall meet wins thus far are three stakes: the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) with We Miss Artie; Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. I) with Kitten's Dumplings; and JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (gr. III) with Kitten Kaboodle.
With four days remaining in the season, the Ramseys have multiple chances to extend their margin as leading owner. They have five horses entered Oct. 23, five on Oct. 24, and four on Oct. 25. Ramsey estimated they would have at least six horses entered on the final day of the meet, Oct. 26.
"I've always liked to win at Keeneland...it's very competitive," said Ramsey, who owns Ramsey Farm near Nicholasville, Ky. "It's nice to win on your home court...Keeneland is in my backyard and the whole family can go out there and watch the horses run without driving a half day or getting on a plane. It's a very special place...I started going to the races there when I was a student at the University of Kentucky."
Ramsey is especially proud of the fact that many of his wins have come with horses sired by his homebred stallion, champion grass horse Kitten's Joy. "To win at Keeneland with a Kitten's Joy puts his name out there...people take notice, especially if you win a grade I race," he said. "We're trying to get Kitten's Joy elevated up so he'll be thought of in America like Galileo is thought of over in Europe."
Ramsey and Kitten's Dumplings; photo by Anne M. Eberhardt
In addition to the conclusion of the Keeneland meet, Ramsey is also focused on the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park Nov. 1-2, where he plans to run seven horses and one in an undercard stakes. Even though those runners aren't 100% certain yet, one thing will always be a constant in the Ramsey stable--Ken Ramsey's hands-on approach in helping choose the races in which his horses will run.
"If you're going to train for Ken Ramsey, you have to listen to his input," said Ramsey. "We have trainers that respect our opinion and we respect theirs, so it's not a controversial thing. We sit down and go through the races and decide which way is the best course of action."
Trainer Scooter Hughes couldn't hide his disappointment when the Oct. 17 Sycamore Stakes (gr. III) was taken off the turf due to the wet surface and he was forced to scratch his popular 9-year-old runner Rahystrada from the race.
The son of Rahy, who has won six stakes at four different tracks throughout his 45-start career, was attempting to secure his first Keeneland victory in his eight seasons of racing in the 1 1/2-mile turf test for 3-year-olds and older.
"We were very disappointed (we had to scratch him), because (owner) Robert (Courtney Jr.) really wanted to try and win a stakes here at Keeneland," said Hughes.
Courtney Jr. raises and sells horses out of his Stonebridge Farm in Lexington and had been striving for a big victory in his hometown.
Rahystrada winning the Colonial Cup Turf Stakes; photo by Coady Photography
Lucky for the owner-trainer duo, they were able to find another spot for Rahystrada at Keeneland, although it's not in a stakes. The chestnut gelding is entered in the sixth race Oct. 24, a 1 1/8-mile allowance contest on the turf slated for 3:45 p.m. He will leave from post 6 under jockey Leandro Goncalves.
"It was in the book and worked out to where since we scratched, this was a good spot for him," said Hughes. "We'll still get to run here at Keeneland at least. He's feeling good, and that's one reason why we're running him. If he does okay in it, we might go back in the (Nov. 23) River City (gr. IIIT) which he won a couple years ago at Churchill."
Rahystrada winning Churchill's River City; photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer
When asked again about the possibility of retiring Rahystrada at the end of the season, Hughes said he would leave it up to the horse.
"Robert wants to retire him, but I don't see any reason to, because he's a sound, happy horse," said Hughes. "If he shows us in these next couple of races that he doesn't want to do it anymore, then we will retire him. But there have been several horses that run well at 10, so I'm not set on it; it's just a matter of him telling us what he wants to do."
To read more about Rahystrada, see Frank Angst's previous entry in The Keeneland Files.