Kitten's Joy

Kitten's Joy

Anne M. Eberhardt

2004 Eclipse Turf Male: Kitten's Joy

Ken Ramsey wants to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) more than any other race, and he tried to make Kitten's Joy a Derby horse. He didn't achieve his goal with the son of El Prado, but the flashy chestnut colt's development into a turf star was a very good consolation prize.

Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, bred Kitten's Joy and knew he had a pedigree that strongly suggested success on grass. The colt's dam, Kitten's First, had been a winner on the turf, and she is by European group I winner Lear Fan. El Prado was a champion in Ireland.

"It looked like he was going to be strictly a grass horse, and I'm looking for dirt horses, so I decided to sell him," said Ramsey of Kitten's Joy.

Entered in the 2003 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April sale of 2-year-olds in training, Kitten's Joy didn't meet Ramsey's reserve and was bought back for $95,000, which was just $5,000 less than Ramsey had wanted. One of the bidders on the colt called after the auction and offered Ramsey $95,000, but Ramsey refused to budge.

"That was close; we were only $5,000 apart," Ramsey said. "If I had sold him, who knows where the horse would have ended up or what path he would have gone down. I can't even imagine what would have happened."

Kitten's Joy started his career on dirt, but didn't win until his grass debut, when he rolled by 4 1Z2 lengths at Belmont Park. Early in 2004, the colt scored a convincing victory in the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT), but Ramsey still wouldn't give up his Kentucky Derby dream. He asked Hall-of-Fame jockey Jerry Bailey to work Kitten's Joy six furlongs on dirt in company with stakes winner Dubai Sheikh.

"We broke Dubai Sheikh off five or six lengths in front of Kitten's Joy, and Kitten's Joy ran him down and beat him about a length and a half or maybe two lengths going away," Ramsey said. "But Jerry said, 'Ken, he changed gears like he always changes gears, but he struggled over the dirt and he's exhausted. I think he's better on grass, and I wouldn't try him on the dirt again.' I took Jerry's advice."

It proved to be the right strategy, with Kitten's Joy developing into a dominant force. Running exclusively on grass, the colt captured six of his eight 2004 races. In the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), Kitten's Joy rallied four wide entering the stretch while cruising to a 3 1Z4-length victory against fellow 3-year-olds. His 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 on the same card. Kitten's Joy's other efforts included a 2 1Z2-length win over a powerful group of older opponents in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT). Left in his wake were foreign champions Magistretti and Maktub, Arlington Million winner (via disqualification) Kicken Kris, and United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) winner Request for Parole.

Kitten's Joy ended his 2004 campaign in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). The heaviest favorite on the World Thoroughbred Championships card, the colt got caught in traffic during the roughly run race and finished second. John Velazquez, his rider, also reported that Kitten's Joy had trouble handling Lone Star Park's yielding course.

Said the colt's trainer, Dale Romans, afterward: "He wasn't getting hold of the track, but he tried the whole way. He's incredibly game, and he showed the heart of a champion."