Kitten's Joy is so good that he "may have mystical qualities," said Ken Ramsey, who races the homebred colt in partnership with his wife, Sarah.
Knowing Ramsey's close connection to Kitten's Joy, it's easy to dismiss such a glowing comment as bragging by a proud owner. But that would be a mistake, because Kitten's Joy has been a real tiger on the grass this year and is the early favorite for the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
Consider Kitten's Joy's record. The chestnut son of El Prado has captured six of his seven races while earning $1,225,796 in 2004. All of his victories have been in graded stakes, with two coming at the grade I level.
While the bare-bones statistics are impressive, it's not what Kitten's Joy has accomplished that's made him so exciting; it's how he's done it.
"He can just be galloping along and all of a sudden accelerate; he has a bang-bang-bang burst of energy," Ramsey said.
In the Aug. 14 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park, Kitten's Joy rallied four-wide entering the stretch while rolling to a 31/4-length win against his fellow 3-year-olds. The winning time of 1:59.65 broke Hawk Attack's stakes record and was faster than the 2:00.08 clocking for the Arlington Million (gr. IT), which was run at the same 10-furlong distance that afternoon.
Then, in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) Oct. 2, Kitten's Joy crushed a powerful group of opponents in his first outing against older horses. With a blistering final quarter in under :23, he drew off to win by 21/2 lengths, blowing by English champion Magistretti, who won the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) and was elevated to second in the Million following the disqualification of first-place finisher Powerscourt. Also left in the wake of Kitten's Joy's powerful closing kick were Italian champion Maktub, the talented European runners Polish Summer and Tycoon, Million winner Kicken Kris, and United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) winner Request for Parole. Kitten's Joy's time over the yielding Belmont Park course for the 11/2 miles--the same distance as the Breeders' Cup Turf--was 2:29.97.
Jerry Bailey, Kitten's Joy's regular rider, will not be aboard for the Breeders' Cup Turf even though the Hall of Fame jockey has recovered from a broken wrist suffered in September. Instead, Ramsey will go with John Velazquez, who guided Kitten's Joy to victory in the Turf Classic.
"It's no reflection on Bailey or his ability," Ramsey said. "He was hurt, and it's going to affect his timing some. It takes a while to get the rhythm back. This is a huge race for us. This is for the championship; it's for all the marbles. I just couldn't make a decision that a 90% Jerry Bailey could outride a 100% John Velazquez, who is in his prime."
Ramsey isn't worried about Lone Star Park's tight turns because of Kitten's Joy's "explosive turn of foot," which allows the colt to quickly escape any traffic problems.
"Depending on what the pace is, we'll be laying fifth or sixth, and we'll stay covered up behind the rest of the horses," Ramsey said. "In the Turf Classic, Velazquez was told to sit chilly and turn him (Kitten's Joy) loose at the head of the stretch. They have a short stretch at Lone Star, so we won't be able to wait until the head of the stretch there. We probably will have to start making our move coming around the (final) turn."
An enthusiastic handicapper, Ramsey said he is "probably going to end up singling Kitten's Joy in my Breeders' Cup Pick Six."
The Kentucky horseman won't be alone in using that betting strategy.