Great sporting figures often live by the creed that they can always get better, even if they're dominating their profession.
Following a 2013 season that saw Nicholasville-based owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey secure practically every major achievement a racing and breeding operation could, there has never been a better time to go after the race that could trump previous accolades.
What better way to follow up an Eclipse Award-sweeping 12 months than by taking full aim at victory in the Kentucky Derby? Such is the thinking for the always-energized Ken Ramsey as he analyzes the promising sophomore runners that will try to bring his farm's colors to the Derby again this year.
Forgive Ken Ramsey for thinking his and his wife's operation can pull off about anything they put their minds to at this point. The couple won the 2013 Eclipse Award for both Outstanding Owner and Outstanding Breeder and saw their homebred stallion Kitten's Joy lead the North American general sire list.
"You ask what we'll do for an encore? We're going to slow down and smell the roses a little bit from 2013 and hoping to smell the real roses at Churchill in May," Ken Ramsey said. "We're plotting these horses out trying to achieve the ultimate goal of the first Saturday in May."
The Ramseys have had four prior Kentucky Derby starters — the most recent being Charming Kitten who finished ninth last year — all of them having gone off at odds of 25-1 or greater.
The Ramseys believe they have a more legitimate set of contenders in these early prep stages with Grade I winner We Miss Artie and graded stakes winners Bobby's Kitten and Vicar's in Trouble carrying most of the aspirations.
Trained by Mike Maker, Vicar's in Trouble moved sharply into the picture after his 63/4-length win in the Grade III LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 18.
Unlike Bobby's Kitten and We Miss Artie, who have yet to win on dirt, Vicar's in Trouble is 2-for-2 on the Fair Grounds surface. That he went from breaking his maiden against state-breds to airing out stakes company suggests there's plenty of upside to build on.
"The horse has been improving," jockey Rosie Napravnik said after the LeComte. "I think he's a little immature, but I think he can move up a lot from this race."
We Miss Artie won the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October and opened his 3-year-old campaign by running second by a head in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf on Jan. 19.
Though he may ultimately be most effective on turf and synthetic surfaces, We Miss Artie counts 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus as his dam's sire and has shown ability on dirt. We Miss Artie was second in his career debut on the main track at Belmont Park and seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he was beaten 33/4 lengths.
"If We Miss Artie converts to dirt, he could lead us to the promised land," Ramsey said, adding that the Grade II Fountain of Youth followed by the Grade III Spiral Stakes on March 22 are the likely path for the colt. "The Fountain of Youth will tell us what we've got. If he runs well, great, if not he's already proved on the Polytrack."
Bobby's Kitten has never run on dirt, but flashed brilliance when he won the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes on the Belmont Park turf last October. Few times has Ramsey been so angst-ridden after a race as he was when the homebred son of Kitten's Joy ran third as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
"I want to keep (We Miss Artie) and Bobby's Kitten separate but I think Bobby's Kitten is probably the better of the two," Ramsey said. "Bobby's Kitten will go in an allowance race next time and from there the (Grade I) Blue Grass Stakes."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.