Ken Ramsey has noticed his granddaughter Stephanie is a little shy. And being the doting granddad he is, the Nicholasville-based owner is doing his part to help her channel a bit of his own ebullient personality.
So far, the best assistant Ramsey has had in that quest has been his Grade I-winning filly, Stephanie's Kitten. Each time the daughter of Kitten's Joy hit the track last season, she ended up thrusting her namesake further into the spotlight.
With her wins in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2011, Stephanie's Kitten succeeded in becoming both an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 2-year-old filly and getting Stephanie Ramsey her first — albeit brief — public speaking role in the post Breeders' Cup news conference.
The Ramsey clan hopes another public appearance is on tap Saturday when Stephanie's Kitten breaks from post seven for her season debut against six other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes, the highlight of the opening weekend of Keeneland's Spring Meet.
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Though the 11⁄16-mile Ashland over the main Polytrack is typically viewed as a stepping stone to the Kentucky Oaks, Ramsey literally has greener pastures dancing in his head where Stephanie's Kitten is concerned. Depending on how she emerges from her first race as a 3-year-old, Ramsey plans to point the bay filly — who has never started on dirt — toward the turf of Royal Ascot in England this June.
"We're not going to run in the Oaks, that's on dirt. That's out," Ramsey said. "We're looking forward to going to England and trying to meet the Queen with her.
"My granddaughter Stephanie is a little on the shy side so we're trying to get her out of her shell. So she's going to go to England with us to watch her run ... but first we'd like to win at Keeneland in front of the home folks."
It was at Keeneland where Stephanie's Kitten first showed her talents were ahead of the curve, rallying from well back early on to sweep past her rivals en route to a 11/2-length triumph in the 11⁄16-mile Alcibiades.
Though she has not been seen competitively since her half-length win in the Breeders' Cup, Stephanie's Kitten has posted seven works for trainer Wayne Catalano since returning to the tab on Valentine's Day.
Physically, Catalano says Stephanie's Kitten hasn't changed much since her juvenile campaign. She will have to do some growing up, however, if she is to maintain her status as a division leader.
"We'll get her running on Saturday and see what happens," Catalano said. "Right now she's training well. She's a horse we felt could run all along but I felt the Canada race (third in the Grade III Natalma Stakes last September) was the race that showed she could be somebody."
Stephanie's Kitten is the only graded-stakes winner in the Ashland field and is seeking to become the fifth filly to complete an Alcibiades-Ashland double. Among those trying to halt that effort will be Heart of Destiny, second behind Stephanie's Kitten in the Alcibiades.
That Stephanie's Kitten has been among the most successful runners to bear the name of a Ramsey family member is ironic considering the multiple occasions she could have been had by others. The filly was twice offered at public auction, failing to meet her reserve both times including being a $17,000 buy-back at the 2011 Ocala (Fla.) April 2-year-olds in training sale.
"The fact that we bred the horse's mother and bred the sire and she ended up being a Grade I winner after we put her in the Ocala sale with a $19,000 reserve ... it's turned out well," Ramsey laughed.