(Originally published in the May 14, 2011 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Ken Ramsey is an industry Breeder and Owner.
By any measure Ken Ramsey had had an outstanding Keeneland spring meet. He and his wife, Sarah Kathern, were poised to win their ninth leading owner title, and on the last day they had aim on Calumet Farm’s 70-year-old record of most victories, 12, at a Keeneland spring meet. To break the record, the Ramseys had five horses entered on April 29, including one in the first.
Farm manager Mark Partridge, trainer Wayne Catalano, children, and friends gathered in the saddling area as Live in Joy walked a circle around a young oak tree. The minute hand approached 1, but no sign of Ken Ramsey.
“He’s explaining to a secretary how he’s related to Prince William,” son Jeff reported. Sure enough, as horse and entourage moved to the paddock, the elder Ramsey appeared, confirming, “I watched my cousin get married.”
A genealogy enthusiast who says his ancestry traces to England’s Edward III, Ramsey had awoken at 4 that morning to watch the royal wedding. He feels a special kinship with the royal family, particularly after Queen Elizabeth II invited him to high tea in 2009 when one of his runners finished second at Royal Ascot. “I spent 35 minutes with the queen,” the Artemus, Ky.,
As the horses headed to the track for the first race, Ramsey said to one of the entourage, “I’m 75 years old, and let’s see if you can keep up with me!” With that he handed Jeff a couple of crisp C notes to bet the daily double, chatted with a racing fan from Chicago who called Ramsey a “hero,” then dashed to his box—but not before thanking a Keeneland attendant for a kindness earlier in the meet.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Partridge said with a chuckle.
Almost on cue Ramsey’s cell phone rang as he spread out his tip sheets. It was a telephone betting account clerk reminding Ramsey to place his wagers for the day. “I’ve been betting with both hands, and they’ve been coming in!” Ramsey said gleefully.
So had Ramsey runners at Keeneland, most of them by homebred stallion Kitten’s Joy, the champion turf horse of 2004 who stands at Ramsey Farm near Nicholasville, Ky. The Ramseys enjoyed a rare double April 23 when Holiday for Kitten won the Giant’s Causeway Stakes and one race later Derby Kitten took the Coolmore Lexington (gr. III). A late defection enabled Derby Kitten to enter the Kentucky Derby field as the 20th starter. He finished 13th.
No one can accuse Ramsey of not supporting his stallions. The entrepreneur, who has had successful careers in real estate, cellular telephone towers, radio, and horses, has 67 Kitten’s Joy offspring in training. All of them have “Kitten” or “Joy” in their names. Ramsey explained that Brereton C. Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud, once advised him to “put the stallion’s name on the good ones.”
“We’ve got Kitten this, and Kitten that for the better prospects. The ones we thought weren’t so good, we put Joy in their name,” he said.
Obviously, too many Kittens and Joys can cause confusion so this year only one prospect has a “Kitten” in its name “because I forgot and left out one of my granddaughters,” Ramsey said. “Our motto is we leave no child behind.”
The abundance of Kittens and Joys serves as a reminder of the Ramseys’ long union and, more poignantly, of Sarah’s only occasional appearances at the track since she suffered a stroke in 2007.
Ramsey likes to tell the story that he nicknamed his wife “Kitten” when they were dating. Later, when the couple got into racing and had separate racing stables, Sarah named her first runner Kitten’s First.
Unfortunately, the talented filly suffered an injury in a starting gate mishap and a veterinarian advised euthanasia. But Ramsey thought she could be saved, and so she was. However, Kitten’s First had such a difficult time as a broodmare that both Kitten’s Joy and Precious Kitten, a multiple graded stakes winner of nearly $2 million, were delivered by C-section.
Ramsey’s folksy ways and love of storytelling belie his fierce competitiveness. “I don’t like to lose. Second sucks,” he said.
When one of the day’s runners was entered as an also-eligible, Ramsey chastised the trainer, asking if he had dallied in sending in the paperwork. Well known for requiring his trainers to have a 20% win rate, Ramsey said he would keep a mental note of the oversight.
While admitting it would be a thrill to tie Calumet’s record, Ramsey also acknowledged, “You don’t want to set the bar too high because you want to come back and break it (the record) again.”
By the end of the day, though, Ramsey had to settle for two seconds from his battalion of five. In all, the Ramseys won 10 Keeneland races—nine of them with Kitten’s Joy offspring—just two shy of Calumet’s record.
“One day it’s chicken,” he said quizzically. “The next day it’s feathers.”