Owner/breeder Ken Ramsey worked the phone all day Sept. 22, fielding calls from multiple stud farms in England, plus other inquiries from Ireland, Canada, and Qatar, interested in standing his homebred leading sire Kitten's Joy .
"I'm now 98% sure we're going to get a deal done," Ramsey said. "I think I'm onto something that is going work out well for the family and horse."
After seeing disappointing sales results throughout the Keeneland September yearling sale, Ramsey concluded his star turf horse was never going to get the respect from North American buyers that he deserved. He said he had not planned on relocating his stallion, but during a conversation with Bill Finley of Thoroughbred Daily News, Ramsey said he realized the stallion had to leave Kentucky.
"I was emotionally upset, because I felt we had realistic reserves and no one was interested in buying them," Ramsey said, noting the 28 Kitten's Joy yearlings sold during the September sale averaged $114,464. "I'm a shoot-from-the-hip guy, and I decided we needed to move the horse someplace else. If he stayed around here, we would probably have to drop his stud fee to $50,000."
Farm owners in England have told Ramsey they could get 100 mares to the stallion at an anticipated fee of £40,000 (US$54,100). Kitten's Joy has stood for $100,000 at Ramsey Farm since 2014, when he bred 209 mares. The stallion bred 187 in 2015 and 201 in 2016. Even though a significant number of those mares either belong to Ramsey or were bred on foal-share agreements, Ramsey acknowledged that moving the horse could leave money on the table. But in the long run, he sees more upside in moving Kitten's Joy overseas.
"Money is not the driving issue in this case," Ramsey said. "I want to see this horse become a Galileo in Europe, and right now he's Rodney Dangerfield. He is underappreciated here, and I don't think things will get any better."
Ramsey is committed to retaining 49% ownership in the stallion. He is also seeking provisions in a contract that would prohibit Kitten's Joy from shuttling, and require the stallion return to Ramsey Farm upon retirement from stud duty.
Kitten's Joy currently leads the North American turf sire list for the fifth consecutive year and through Sept. 25 is second on the BloodHorse's general leading sire list, which he topped in 2013. Kitten's Joy also has 22 black-type stakes winners and 10 grade/group winners for 2017, which makes him the co-leading active sire by grade/group winners with Gainesway's Tapit . Among active sires he also ranks second by number of stakes winners to Tapit.
Ramsey said it is frustrating to see Kitten's Joy outrank another popular turf sire—Claiborne Farm's War Front —on the leading sire lists, yet have Kitten's Joy's September yearlings average 15% of War Front's $770,000 average.
"We've sent Kitten's Joy horses over to England and we've gotten three-times the ones we sent to Keeneland. We've made money," Ramsey said. "If we continue down the same path we're on, we'll be facing the same thing for the next couple of years. I'm ready to change it up. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, at least we tried."