Practically every aspect of Stephanie's Kitten's final career start was telling her connections the fantasy send-off they had in mind wasn't meant to be.
About the worst thing that can happen to a turf horse is to be sitting last in a race with zero pace. And as the tepid fractions went up during Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf with the bay mare's white striped face at the rear of the 10-horse field, concern among her crew started morphing into dismal resignation.
That is until the old girl found arguably the best stride of her life. And four years after she first stormed into the Breeders' Cup history books, Stephanie's Kitten elicited an emotional outburst from the family that redefines what it means to be passionate about the Thoroughbred industry.
The full-circle journey of Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Stephanie's Kitten finished with a most explosive kick as the 6-year-old made her move inside and then surged clear between horses in midstretch to win the Filly and Mare Turf by 11/4 lengths over favored Legatissimo, one day before she is slated to be sold at the Fasig-Tipton November sale.
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The triumph gives Stephanie's Kitten her second career Breeders' Cup victory as well as the distinction of the longest gap between Breeders' Cup wins. The bay mare won the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs and has been a Grade I winner at ages 2, 4, 5, and 6.
She is also the unofficial "family pet." Ken Ramsey named his durable distaffer after his granddaughter Stephanie, one of the many reasons this runner tugs hard on his heartstrings.
As the wire approached Saturday and Stephanie's Kitten's 11th career win from 25 starts was secure, the man who holds nothing back in terms of emotion had it all come spilling down his face as his family embraced.
"It's the culmination of all our breeding and everything that has gone into this," Ken Ramsey said. "This has been a family pet, this is her third Breeders' Cup (start) and it's emotional. I've had some highs and a few lows and this is definitely one of the highs."
Stephanie's Kitten had her share of hard-luck runs this season, dropping three straight races at one point before winning the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park on Oct. 3.
Where she sat close to the pace that day, her position after breaking from post No. 9 left her at the back of the field Saturday as Secret Gesture went the opening half-mile in :49.26 over a course rated good. After jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. started moving her up and picking off rivals on the rail, her stride kept growing under left-handed urging as she hit the wire in 1:56.22 for the 13⁄16-mile test.
"She was wide in the first turn and far behind, two things you don't want in a turf race," trainer Chad Brown said. "I'm just so proud of her, the way she kicked home. She just overcomes so much, this filly. The two things we sort of learned about her is she didn't care for Keeneland's turf course and she doesn't run inside horses. And she did all that today."