FLORENCE — At no point during Saturday's Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes did it look like We Miss Artie's dark bay frame would make it to the winner's circle at Turfway Park.
From his winter base in Florida, owner Ken Ramsey was screaming trying to will a miracle finish for his late-running colt, while along the Turfway rail, his Ramsey Farm staff and family members thought what they had just witnessed at the wire was a heartbreaking near miss.
"From our standpoint we didn't think we had won," Ramsey Farm manager Mark Partridge said. "We thought we were second or third. We were very surprised."
Proving that even the racing gods can't argue with what Ken Ramsey wants, a three-horse photo finish showed that We Miss Artie did get his nose down over 15-1 shot Harry's Holiday and Coastline to take the $518,950 Spiral Stakes and cement a place in the Kentucky Derby field.
Getting to the first leg of the Triple Crown was the sole reason We Miss Artie was in the Grade III Spiral. With 50 qualifying points to the winner on the line, the Grade I-winning son of Artie Schiller now tops the Kentucky Derby standings with 60 points, which led to an impromptu rendition of My Old Kentucky Home from the ever-enthusiastic Ramsey when he was reached by phone afterward.
"This one is in," said Ramsey, who along with his wife, Sarah, swept the 2013 Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Owner and Outstanding Breeder. "I was jumping up and down, I could not see where the wire was. It was too close to call from down here. He looked like (2011 Spiral and Kentucky Derby winner) Animal Kingdom to me, I don't know about you."
Ramsey has been plotting this Derby-bound course for We Miss Artie ever since the Todd Pletcher-trainee won the Grade I Breeders' Futurity over the Polytrack at Keeneland in October.
The colt's dirt form is certainly a question mark as he is 0-for-3 on the main track including an eighth-place finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth on Feb. 22. However, Ramsey cited the fact that the Churchill Downs dirt seemingly plays more kind toward turf and synthetic horses.
"The track at Churchill Downs is totally different," Ramsey said. "It's a little bit of a sandy loam and some horses like it and some don't. We're taking a shot, we're in, and if he can handle it he can, if he can't he can't. But the whole game plan was to get enough points to get in.
"We'll take our chances once we get there."
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez at the helm, We Miss Artie traveled on an outside path seventh in the 12-horse field as Solitary Ranger and Almost Famous pushed each other through fractions of :22.78 and :47.21.
Almost Famous gave up his run entering the final turn and, as Coastline began making his charge approaching the lane, We Miss Artie was getting into his rhythm and advanced five-wide. Though he still had about 2 lengths to make up in midstretch on a game Harry's Holiday along the inside and Coastline between them, Velazquez kept going to work left-handed as the colt edged ever closer to earning his third win in eight career starts.
"He was finishing steadily, it was just a matter of whether he would get there," Velazquez said.
"My horse did a great job," said jockey Rosie Napravnik, who was on Harry's Holiday. "He was totally passed by (Coastline) and came back and stuck his nose in front and ran a great race."
Final time for the 11⁄8 miles was 1:52.26.
The Ramseys have two other Kentucky Derby hopefuls in graded stakes winners Vicar's in Trouble and Bobby's Kitten. They are slated to run in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, respectively.
"It sure would be nice to have a three-horse entry in the Kentucky Derby," Ramsey said. "We'll only have 17 others to beat."
Aurelia's Belle takes Bourbonette Oaks
Where many dream of having a Kentucky Derby horse, owner James Miller's aspiration is to win its filly counterpart race. That hope took a step forward Saturday when his filly Aurelia's Belle drew clear in the stretch to win the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks by 21/4 lengths over race favorite Sloane Square.
Trained by Wayne Catalano, Aurelia's Belle had broken her maiden on the Polytrack at Keeneland in October but had hit the board in both the Grade II Forward Gal and Grade II Davona Dale this winter.
"We liked the timing of this going into the (Kentucky) Oaks. That race looks like the next step," Catalano said. "That's (owner Jim Miller's) dream, to win the Oaks. That's why we're here. At least we know we'll get in there."
Sent off at 7-2 odds, Aurelia's Belle hit the wire in 1:38.99 for the 1-mile race.