Ken Ramsey always has been a shrewd businessman, intrigued with the art of the deal and the benefits it can reap.
But if there is one thing that trumps Ramsey's aggressive entrepreneurial spirit, it's his appreciation of family. Since the ebullient owner let family bonds win out days ago, he ended up coming out ahead on both ends of the spectrum during the opening day of Keene-land's 75th anniversary meet.
Stephanie's Kitten, the namesake of one of Ramsey's granddaughters and the subject of an offer from celebrity chef Bobby Flay, justified Ramsey's decision not to part with her. The 9-1 shot angled out from behind horses in the stretch and came running four-wide to win the Grade I, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades Stakes by 11/2 lengths before a crowd of 19,026 on Friday.
The Nicholasville-based Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, famously have a trend of naming offspring by their sire Kitten's Joy after family members, with 14-year-old Stephanie being the last of the grandkids to get that honor.
After Stephanie's Kitten ran third in the Grade III Natalma at Woodbine on Sept. 17, Ken Ramsey said he was offered $700,000 for the filly by Flay's agent. More often than not, it's a deal Ramsey would have jumped at.
"He (Flay) called me back personally and said he was disappointed we didn't accept the offer because his wife was named Stephanie and she wanted to buy that horse to go in the Breeders' Cup," Ramsey said. "I said, 'Well my granddaughter is named Stephanie and how do you think I'd feel up in the stands watching you with your Stephanie lead her in. I'd feel terrible."
Turns out, a Stephanie will likely be doing the Breeders' Cup walkover with the filly after all.
In her three prior starts, Stephanie's Kitten had shown enough to convince both the Ramseys and trainer Wayne Catalano it was worth taking a shot in deeper waters.
After running third first time out on the Polytrack at Arlington, the bay filly broke her maiden going 1 mile on the turf at Arlington on Aug. 5 before shipping to Woodbine to try the grass again.
With the 11⁄16-mile Alcibiades shaping up as a wide-open affair and Stephanie's Kitten showing good form over the synthetic surface, her connections knew a good effort there would set her up for a run in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.
"We wanted some time to the Breeders' Cup and I figured if we took a shot here it would give us more time," Catalano said. "We figured this would be our best option to get to the Breeders' Cup and have a shot to win. It's going to probably be the grass (Fillies Turf)."
Another decision paid dividends for Stephanie's Kitten before Friday's race when jockey John Velazquez, who was originally named to ride Sweet Cat, became available when that one scratched. A couple phone calls later, Velazquez was named to replace Corey Lanerie on the Ramseys' homebred filly.
"If the game is tied, you don't leave Michael Jordan on the bench. That's what it boils down to," Ramsey explained of the switch.
Although speed was holding on the Keeneland Polytrack throughout the day, Stephanie's Kitten settled into the outside path in ninth down the backstretch and got the honest pace she needed when long shots On Fire Baby and Cheerleader pushed each other through fractions of :23.28 and :47.08.
With little urging, Stephanie's Kitten began to pick off horses on the second turn and found her best gear when Velazquez angled her out from behind eventual runner-up Heart of Destiny with a furlong to go en route to hitting the wire in 1:43.12.
"They give it to me, you have to take it," Velazquez said. "I just watched the pace in front of me and finally when I got to the three-eighths pole, she got in perfect position. Once she got in the clear, she responded right away. To pick up a mount like this, what a nice filly."
Heart of Destiny and third-place finisher Putthebabiesdown, both sent off at 17-1, were 33/4 lengths clear of the rest of the 13-horse field with 2-1 favorite Tu Endie Wei finishing seventh.
"She got very antsy in the gate," said James McAleney, jockey of Tu Endie Wei. "That took too much out of her."
In the day's other graded stakes race, the Graham Motion-trained Hoofit held off Aikenite in a duel to the wire to win the Grade III, 6-furlong Phoenix Stakes by a nose at odds of 11-1.
Hoofit was making just his second start in the United States since coming over from New Zealand and would have to be supplemented into the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
There is little question, however, Stephanie's Kitten will be at Churchill Downs come Nov. 4.
"You know for (Ramsey), everything has a price," said Ken Ramsey's daughter-in-law Patricia Ramsey, mother of Stephanie. "We're glad Stephanie didn't have a price."