The term “October surprise” is usually pegged to the presidential election cycle, but the Thoroughbred world received a pretty good one when John Sikura and Ken Ramsey announced that Kitten’s Joy, the leading sire of 2013 and a four-time leading turf sire in the U.S., would be moving from Ramsey Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., to Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms near Lexington for 2018.
Ramsey first reported his displeasure with the “respect” his champion runner and $100,000-stud-fee-stallion received following the Keeneland September yearling sales, opining he would move the 16-year-old son of El Prado to Europe…or elsewhere.
“I was emotionally upset because I felt we had realistic reserves and no one was interested in buying them,” Ramsey told BloodHorse’s Eric Mitchell, noting the 28 Kitten’s Joy yearlings that sold during the September sale averaged $114,464. “I’m a shoot-from-the-hip guy, and I decided we needed to move the horse someplace else.”
Athletes moving happens all the time in major league sports…LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami at the apex of his career…and has returned to Cleveland and won championships in both locales. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Peyton Manning left Indianapolis for the Denver Broncos later in his career and won another ring there in 2016.
A top sire—in his prime—just doesn’t move.
W.T. Young was smart enough to take some money off the table with leading sire Storm Cat, selling some 25 lifetime breeding rights in the horse in 1999 and 2000, but the horse remained at Young’s Overbrook Farm.
In the paddock at Keeneland during the meet’s opening day, Sikura spoke of the deal:
“Once you are at a farm and make a farm, a horse should stay there unless there are some drastic things,” he said. “In this case there was a single owner, so it wasn’t a ‘hostile takeover.’
“What caused me to call was reading the things he said. When I spoke with him, I said, ‘If you sell this horse, you are going to wake up and feel 95 years old the next morning because he’s your life, and while you think it is in the best interest of your horse, I think we can accomplish what you want to accomplish by moving him right here.’
“I didn’t really have a relationship with him (Ramsey),” Sikura said. “I’ve seen him at the races, and four or five years ago I tried to buy the horse…several people did. He wasn’t shopping the horse, but when one guy owns a horse that is worth all that money, it’s kind of like the recruitment of a great athlete. People are going to approach him. At the time he was right not to sell the horse. There were a lot more things he wanted to accomplish, and he did, and he got to a point to where to take the next step in the commercial market. Now was the time to do a deal.”
Ramsey told us he had struck a deal with a farm in England, had come to a similar conclusion about potentially regretting the decision after speaking with his family, and was able to pivot to Hill ‘n’ Dale.
“We will participate on him. I don’t do deals unless I involve myself,” Sikura said on taking a 50% stake in the horse. “I believe in the horse and believe in the deal, and the horse is the four-time consecutive leading sire on turf (on course for a fifth); he’s been a leading sire on the general list. These are huge statistics that are hard to come by. If you can access a horse like that…I don’t know how many stallions you have to go through to achieve what he did.
“For a guy to go out and claim a bunch of mares and say ‘I’m going to breed 150 mares and make him leading sire,’…that’s wrong 999 times out of a thousand,” he said. “I would say 1,000, but Kitten’s Joy is the one exception. He did it all himself. The horse has superior genetics, and he’s a fantastic progenitor, but Ken’s the guy who got the fillies, put up the money, and did all of the work.”
Now it’s Sikura and Ramsey’s job to reposition and reshape Kitten’s Joy’s matings…just another chapter in a very interesting book.