Those who know Ken Ramsey know his hallmark is not just achieving success, but achieving it his way.
Thus, even before the Nicholasville-based owner and his wife Sarah received the 2011 Eclipse Award for outstanding owner Monday, the past year had already been one of the couple's best.
The always ebullient Ramseys won in a stellar photo finish on Monday when they edged Midwest Thoroughbreds by six votes to take home their second Eclipse Award in the owner category.
As was the case when the Ramseys won the same honor in 2004, they have their homebred Kitten's Joy to thank for helping their operation join the top ranks.
The chestnut son of El Prado — who was named champion turf male for his owners eight years ago — has become a top stallion for Ramsey Farm, producing a plethora of winners in 2011 which helped the Ramseys rank third among all owners in earnings with $4,954,201 from 495 starters.
Led by Stephanie's Kitten, heroine of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Ramseys were also tied for second overall with seven graded stakes victories for the year.
"It's the best year we've ever had because ... you have to believe in yourself and we believed in ourselves," Ken Ramsey said last week. "We believed in our program. We just stuck to our battle plan and this stallion (Kitten's Joy), it's unbelievable what he's done."
Known for their support of the Kentucky circuit, the Ramseys have shone brightest in the backyard. The couple earned their record 10th Fall Meet title at Churchill Downs and won three graded stakes races at Keeneland.
In addition to taking the Grade I Darley Alcibiades in the fall with Stephanie's Kitten, the Ramseys captured the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes in April with Derby Kitten, and the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes in October with Holiday for Kitten.
The Ramseys were also a finalist for outstanding breeder but finished second in the voting to Frank Stronach's powerhouse Adena Springs operation, which earned its seventh Eclipse Award in the category in the last eight years.
One of the closest battles, human or equine, was the one for outstanding trainer, an honor that went to Bill Mott by 23 votes over fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Baffert had the edge over Mott in wins, earnings and graded stakes victories, but Mott had a brilliant second half of the year that saw him sweep the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and Classic with Royal Delta and Drosselmeyer, respectively. Mott previously won the Eclipse Award in 1995 and 96.
Ramon Dominguez picked up his second consecutive Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey by a wide margin over John Velazquez while Kyle Frey earned the honor for leading apprentice jockey.