Talking Cats and Kittens with Ken Ramsey

May 2008 brought news that caused much consternation in the Backstretch household.

“Storm Cat Pensioned,” read the headline in the Blood-Horse.

Storm Cat pensioned? Good-bye to generations of Cat horses? Good-bye to nearly unlimited hunch betting?

Feline brows furrowed.

Fast forward just about a year…and all of a sudden, signs of feline fecundity were everywhere.

Lisa’s Kitten. Deanaallen’s Kitten. William’s Kitten. Kera’s Kitten. King Kitten. Scottkeith’s Kitten.

And in Backstretch land, there was much rejoicing, because just as two homeless kittens came to live with the Backstretch big cats, the first offspring of Kitten’s Joy were hitting the race track.

“I used to be partners with Brereton Jones,” said Ken Ramsey, owner of all of these Kittens with his wife Sarah. “We owned a horse named Ghazi, and he told me that any time you have a stallion whose offspring you keep and race, you should keep the stallion’s name in the foals’ names.”

In April of 1999 at Aqueduct, Ken Ramsey claimed a colt from Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. The $50,000 claim, a son of Storm Cat, finished second by half a length under Richard Migliore. The five-year-old dark bay/brown horse was turned over to Richard Schosberg; his name was Catienus.

Under Schosberg’s care, Catienus was second in the Suburban, second in the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap (twice), and third in the Whitney. He retired in 2000.

“Nolan’s Cat was in his first crop—he finished third in the 2005 Belmont,” Ramsey reminisced. “He’s retired on our farm. We couldn’t get rid of him after we named him after our grandson.”

The Ramseys’ foundation broodmare is Kitten’s First, whom they purchased as a two-year-old in training. “We bought two horses,” Ramsey said, “and she was Sarah’s.” Sarah’s middle name is Kathern, and when they were dating—Ramsey proudly states, “We’ve been married for 51 years”—Ramsey called her “Kitten.” “It was Sarah’s first horse, so we named her Kitten’s First.” Among her offspring are Justenuffheart (dam of champion Dreaming of Anna and stakes winners Michael Lewis and Justenuffhumor), Grade I winner Precious Kitten, and champion Kitten’s Joy. Ramsey calls Kitten’s Joy’s loss in the 2004 Breeder’s Cup Turf “the most disappointing loss in my horse racing career.”

With Kitten’s First on the dam side and Catienus (Storm Cat – Diamond City) on the sire side, it was really only a matter of time before the racing world would be overrun with Ramsey Kittens.

Ramsey estimates that he’s got more than 300 Kittens: 42 two-year-olds and about 100 each of yearlings, weanlings, and broodmares in foal to Kitten’s Joy. “Do you play poker?” he asked. “Texas Hold ‘Em? I’m all in on Kitten’s Joy.”

And why not, given his pedigree? Ramsey is quick to point out that Kitten’s Joy’s first five sires–El Prado, Sadler’s Wells, Northern Dancer, Neartic, and Nearco—are all champions. His dam is by Lear Fan, and his first three dams are all Grade I winners or have produced Grade I winners. “Impeccable,” he says, with obvious relish.

This winter the Kittens will be everywhere. Seven will go to Ireland with Dermot Weld; five or six who have been in Canada with Brian Lynch will head to Florida; Lisa’s Kitten and Kera’s Kitten, both stakes winners at Retama Park, will head to stakes races at Turfway. Most of those with Wesley Ward will also go to Gulfstream; Frank Catalano will have some at Tampa Bay Downs.

Ramsey is used to travelling with his horses; Cannonball (no feline pedigree) raced at Ascot earlier this year, and earlier this week Ramsey spoke by phone from the airport, on his way home to Kentucky from Hong Kong. Cannonball finished 10th of 13th in the Hong Kong Sprint, due, Ramsey thinks, to a cut on his foot suffered when the horse reared up the day before the race.

Cannonball heads to Australia later this month, followed by a trip to Dubai for the Festival of Racing. Ramsey’s international aspirations don’t stop with Cannonball. “Hopefully Kitten’s Joy will be an international sire,” he said. “We’re looking for a Melbourne Cup winner.”

There’s a method to the Kitten naming madness: “We divide them up into tiers,” Ramsey offers. “The good ones are named after family members: Jill, Kelly, Jeff, Scott, William. William won was second in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill, and he may be our Derby prospect. He’s a closer and we like him very much.”

The second level has no family names, but Kitten remains: Keen Kitten, Canadian Kitten, New York Kitten. And the least promising are excluded from the Kitten franchise, though they still get their sire’s name: Joy to the World, Canadian Joy, New York Joy. Bettors, take heed.

Like the Backstretch kittens on the left, this first crop of Ramsey Kittens is growing from gangly babies to maturing adolescents. If even a few follow in the racing footsteps of their accomplished progenitors, Ramsey will have Kittens to chase around the country for years to come. And here in Brooklyn, the proud—and occasionally winning—tradition of the feline hunch bet will continue, Kitten’s Joy picking up where Storm Cat left off. Viva the Kittens!

16 thoughts on “Talking Cats and Kittens with Ken Ramsey

  1. Informative post. I'm a fan of Kitten's Joy and I think the stallion — for a horse who was not very commercial — has done an amazing job with his first crop. The Ramseys, by backing him, are due all the credit.William's Kitten, in particular I think, is one of his most talented colts, but he DID NOT win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as Mr. Ramsey (wishful thinking?) recalls.Super Saver won the race, while William's Kitten made a great rally from dead last to finish 2nd, maybe by 5 lengths.I do think that William's Kitten has a big future ahead of him,though.

  2. Thanks very much, Ed.Sid: The mistake is not Mr. Ramsey's, but mine. Clearly wishful thinking and revisionist history on my part. Thank you for pointing it out.

  3. I want to see one of the "least promising" Joy horses beat a top-tier Kitten! That will be a nice underdog (undercat?) story for 2010.

  4. Very cleverly written; well done, again, Teresa. Thoroughbred horseracing needs more owners like the Ramseys, and more chroniclers with your take on the game.

  5. great post Teresa. And we need more owners like the Ramsey's. They love their cats, and seeing them up close in the winners circle I know they love their horses, not to mention each other!

  6. Viva la Gata and Top Cat TooGrand prizes in my heartAnd fine praise for whatever they doYou gotta love the CatBut you know thatYou bet on them whenever you doEyeing them from the startSo keen, clever and quick just like you!

  7. Thanks, Lucky and Linda. Lucky–I was thinking about those Cats as I was writing…and a poem…for me! Thank you. Anon: Meow back at you.

  8. Ken Ramsey has done a great deal for KY horse racing, and his horses are top notch. I look for Ramsey horses every time I go to Churchill. I wish him well S. Estepp

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