The Ramsey clan wears emotions like a badge of honor. Stand along the trackside rail when one of their horses is charging toward the wire, and the cacophony of cheers from the Nicholasville-based family will about knock you to the ground.
Shortly before 6 p.m. last Aug. 17, the Arlington Million was toying with Ken Ramsey and his kin.
Their homebred Real Solution engaged South African champion The Apache in an eyeball-to-eyeball, late-stretch duel only to end up on the wrong side of the result.
Or so they thought.
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"That was what you call a roller coaster," Ken Ramsey said last week. "Remember that old ABC (Wide World of Sports) commercial where the guy comes off the ski jump and goes from the moment of ecstasy to the agony of defeat? That's what it was, but it was from agony to ecstasy."
Last year's Arlington Million was a prime example of how there truly was no denying owners/breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey during their Eclipse Award-winning 2013 season. While Real Solution didn't hit the line first, he was awarded the Million victory via disqualification. The Apache had come out out into him in the stretch. That capped a day that saw three homebred Ramsey runners win Grade I races in a two-hour span between New York and Chicago.
Reminiscing about one of the greatest days ever by an owner is enjoyable, but resting on laurels is not in the Ramseys' DNA. The family will roll into Arlington Park nearly 20-people deep this week as Real Solution tries to become the first back-to-back winner of the Million. He'll break from post No. 6 as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line against six other rivals on Saturday.
The legendary John Henry is the only horse with multiple Million victories, having won the inaugural edition of the 11/4-mile turf test in 1981 and prevailing again in 1984.
Last year's Million marked the first North American victory for Real Solution as the son of Kitten's Joy had made his first five career starts in Italy. The mercurial 5-year-old has tested trainer Chad Brown since, losing four straight before recently turning the corner with an off-the-pace, 11/4-length win in the Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7 under jockey Javier Castellano.
"I asked Chad the question when we were standing by the clockers stand (at Saratoga last Saturday) and he said he thought (Real Solution) was better this year than he was last year," Ken Ramsey said. "He's back to defend his crown and let everyone know he's for real."
With the exception of his ninth-place finish in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Turf behind fellow Million entrant and 7-5 morning-line choice Magician, rare is the instance when Real Solution isn't a threatening presence right before the wire.
Only twice in 13 career starts has the bay horse been worse than fourth. After opening 2014 with a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds on March 29, Real Solution was beaten just three-quarters of a length while running second in the Grade I Man o' War on May 11.
A dose of flattery came Real Solution's way last weekend when Seek Again — third in the Manhattan — won the Grade II Fourstardave at Saratoga in course-record time for a mile on the turf.
And similar to a year ago, Real Solution won't be alone in carrying the Ramsey banner for the day. Fellow homebred and Grade I winner Stephanie's Kitten is the 7-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 11 entered for the Grade I, $750,000 Beverly D. while Admiral Kitten — winner of the Grade I Secretariat on the Million card last year to kick off the day of red-and-white domination — is slated to start in the $400,000 American St Leger Stakes.
Stephanie's Kitten will have champion jockey Frankie Dettori in the irons and, after being sidelined the latter half of last year because of injury, she showed evidence of rounding into form when running second by a neck in the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 19.
"She is definitely back in form," Ramsey said. "According to Trakus, she went 42 feet farther than the winner did that day."
When pressed to compare the emotion of Million day last year, Ken Ramsey could point only to victories by Roses in May in the 2004 Grade I Whitney and 2005 Dubai World Cup as being similar.
"We'll have the opportunity to win two Grade Is at Arlington so it could be a big day again," Ramsey said. "Things could become very interesting on the 16th of August for the Ramsey clan."