Owner Ken Ramsey loves to plan.
The patriarch of Ramsey Farm is a fiend when it comes to plotting optimal courses for his stable of runners, and has the tower-high stacks of racing forms, sales catalogs and condition books in his workspace to prove it.
It is ironic, then, that two of Ramsey Farm's most accomplished representatives on the racetrack this season are carrying the flag because of intentions that went off course. Instead of heading off to the breeding shed or ending up in the hands of another at the conclusion of 2014, Grade I-winning stablemates Big Blue Kitten and Stephanie's Kitten both have their ebullient owner back devising on their behalf this year, trying to carve out a path that could put each in line for Eclipse Award recognition.
Arlington Park's signature card has yielded banner results for Ken and Sarah Ramsey before, and the Nicholasville-based couple is hoping a well of past riches holds more Saturday. Big Blue Kitten stands as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 13 entered in the Grade I Arlington Million while Stephanie's Kitten is the 7-2 second choice in a field of 10 turf fillies and mares entered for the Grade I, $700,000 Beverly D.
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The Million, the Beverly D. and Grade I Secretariat Stakes all on the turf are part of Arlington's International Festival of Racing card.
Already a multiple Grade I winner, Big Blue Kitten was slated to stand alongside his sire and fellow Ramsey homebred, Kitten's Joy, at the family's farm for the 2015 season. Stephanie's Kitten was entered in the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November Sale and brought a final bid of $3,950,000 two days after running second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Since none of his family really wanted to see Stephanie's Kitten go, Ramsey had put a reserve of $4 million on the mare named for one of his granddaughters and wasn't all that upset to bring her home and give her back to trainer Chad Brown.
And after talking things over with Brown, they also decided Big Blue Kitten wasn't ready to come home for good. Now at the age of 7, the bay ridgling has never looked better with two wins from three starts this year including a victory over stablemate and fellow Million entrant Slumber in the Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 5.
"He's 7 years old but he's stayed sound and he's at the top of his game right now," Ramsey said. "Chad wanted to bring him back in the Sword Dancer, but he won the Sword Dancer (in 2013) and I wanted to get something different on his résumé page. I thought the Million was more prestigious.
"I expect to get the Eclipse Award (for champion turf male) with him and I think he can beat Slumber again. And if he could win the Joe Hirsch (at Belmont Park in September) and then the Breeders' Cup Turf, there is nobody out there on the horizon who can beat him if he runs the table the rest of the year."
Six-year-old Stephanie's Kitten, a three-time Grade I winner and graded stakes winner in every season she has been on the track, is back to her gritty but hard-luck ways in 2015.
The homebred daughter of Kitten's Joy has always had a killer closing kick but, because of her style, is often compromised by pace scenarios.
After rallying to win the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay in her season debut March 7, Stephanie's Kitten closed determinedly off tepid fractions to get fourth in the Grade II New York Stakes on June 5 and was beaten only 21/2 lengths while finishing fifth in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga on July 25.
"She was 171/2 lengths behind and she ended up beaten only about 2 lengths, so she made up approximately 15 lengths," said Ramsey, who also has Granny's Kitten slated to start in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes. "(Jockey) Irad Ortiz Jr. said he made a mistake, he should not have laid back behind that second flight and asked to ride her back.
"She's just been a bad-luck horse, she's got so many seconds and thirds. But we're not going with any pacemaker at all (in the Beverly D.), and Ortiz will definitely have her closer than last time."
Two years ago, the Ramseys had a day few in Thoroughbred racing will ever match when three of their runners won Grade I races in the span of a couple hours with two of those wins coming in the Arlington Million and the Secretariat Stakes.
With Stephanie's Kitten slated to go through the ring at Fasig-Tipton again this year after another Breeders' Cup start and a stud deal announced this week to stand Big Blue Kitten at Calumet Farm upon his retirement, each are in the stretch run of careers that have worked out about as ideally as Ramsey could have crafted.
"I could have a huge day at (the Breeders' Cup at) Keeneland come Oct. 30 and 31," Ramsey laughed.