LOUISVILLE — Ken Ramsey wants you to have a button.
It's a circular red-and-white button that says "International Star" on the top and features icons representing Barbados, Dubai, England, France, Italy and the United States.
"I've won races in all those places," a smiling Ramsey, ever the promoter, informed a visitor on the Churchill Downs backstretch Wednesday morning.
Ramsey, 79, is the sport's best self-made story. A successful businessman, Ramsey bought part of old Alamahurst Farm (now Ramsey Farm) near Nicholasville in 1994 and, along with wife Sarah, built an industry juggernaut.
The Ramseys have won six Eclipse Awards — four as owners, two as breeders. Last Friday, they wrapped up a record 15th Keeneland meet ownership title. They've won more races than any owners in Churchill Downs history.
What the Ramseys have not won is the Kentucky Derby. In six tries, they've never finished better than eighth.
"This," Ramsey said Wednesday, "is the best shot we've ever had."
He's talking about Louisiana Derby winner International Star, who thanks to a sweep of the Fair Grounds Triple Crown is the overall points leader for Saturday's 141st running.
Fun fact 1: Since Churchill implemented a points system, the leader has also been the winner. Orb did it in 2013. California Chrome did it in 2014. "That could be a good omen," Ramsey said.
Fun fact 2: The last Louisiana Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby also is the last Derby winner to be sired by a Derby winner. That was 1996 winner Grindstone, by 1990 winner Unbridled. International Star is by 2000 winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
International Star won't be Saturday's favorite, however. American Pharoah, Bob Baffert's freak of nature, has toyed with his competition.
"We may have a super horse in American Pharoah. We could be talking Triple Crown and 40-0 and have a more realistic chance than the Cats had," said Ramsey, who attended the Final Four and hasn't recovered from Kentucky's loss to Wisconsin. "But we know in sports anything can happen."
Ramsey considered next year his Derby year. He has 23 "prime-time prospects" pointed toward 2016. He owned only five colts he deemed possibilities for this first Saturday in May.
The quintet's star turned out to be International Star, whom trainer Mike Maker started on grass. An $85,000 September Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sale purchase, the New York-bred won his first race by five lengths on the turf. After a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, however, Star moved to dirt, where he ran fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill last November.
He did his dirt(y) work in Louisiana, going three for three the hard way. On Jan. 17, Star made a late victory run to win the Lecomte. On Feb. 21, jockey Miguel Mena squeezed his horse through on the rail to win the Risen Star. On March 28, International Star chased down Todd Pletcher's Stanford to win the Louisiana Derby by a neck.
The handicapper in Ramsey sees this Derby fitting a closer. He also sees experience as a factor. Pharoah, Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Firing Line and Mubtaahij made easy work of their last preps, but International Star earned his stripes in nine grinding races.
"When those who've been running away have to run against another good horse, some of them may bat a couple of eyes before they turn for home," Ramsey said. "If my little horse is laying fourth or fifth, he might find a seam and run right past them.
"I can just see the big 'R' going past them."
A native of Artemus, near Barbourville, who first saw the Twin Spires at age 5 during a family shopping trip to Louisville, the ebullient Ramsey becomes emotional thinking about the roses.
"It would validate my entire program and what I have dreamed of since I was a little boy," he said. "It would be the cherry on top of the sundae."