Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Kitten's Joy, winner of the Eclipse Award as America's grass champion in 2004, makes his season debut as the 3-5 morning line favorite in Monday's Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
The one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on the Matt Winn Turf Course, which includes a $75,000 purse supplement from the Breeders' Cup Stakes program, headlines the Independence Day card at Churchill Downs.
Kitten's Joy has not raced since an upset loss to Better Talk Now in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park. He underwent surgery following that runner-up effort to remove bone chips from his left knee. Trainer Dale Romans has patiently guided the homebred son of El Prado toward his 2005 campaign. The champion displayed his readiness for Monday's race with a sizzling work on the Churchill Downs grass on June 29, breezing five furlongs around the dogs on "firm" turf in :59 2/5.
"After you did what he did last year, there's not going to be an easy spot to bring him off the layoff," Romans said. "The mile is a concern because it's a shorter distance than we ended the year with last year. It looked like the mile and a half was going to be his best (distance). But he has a good turn of foot and, being off that long, I really didn't want to run him any further than that."
Expectations are immense for Kitten's Joy following a 3-year-old season in which he won six of eight races, including grade I victories in the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park and the Secretariat at Arlington Park. He opens his 4-year-old campaign with a career record of 8-3-0 in 12 races with earnings of $1,705,911.
Edgar Prado, who piloted Kitten's Joy to a win in last year's Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT) in his only previous ride aboard the colt, will ride the favorite in the Firecracker. Kitten's Joy will carry 124 pounds and must concede from five to 12 pounds to his rivals.
Those bidding to upset Kitten's Joy in the Firecracker include Mill House's America Alive, winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs, and Robert and Beverly Lewis' Senor Swinger, whose five wins on the Churchill Downs grass include back-to-back victories in the Opening Verse Handicap.
$250,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT), 3 & up, 1 mile (turf)
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Old Forester (115), Pat Day, 5-1
2. Senor Swinger (118), Brice Blanc, 9-2
3. Parker Run (112), Brian Hernandez, Jr., 30-1
4. Kitten's Joy (124), Edgar Prado, 3-5
5. America Alive (119), Robby Albarado, 7-2
6. Mighty Military (113), John McKee, 15-1