Tag Archives: Virginia Derby



Courtesy Mathea Kelley and ESPN.com

Not unlike the great Virginia breeders of both long ago and recent yore (including Paul Mellon, Jimmy and Alice Mills, T.M. Evans, Mignon Smith and (for the most part) Edward P. Evans, Ken Ramsey breeds to race.  His entire program (save for the aptly named Kitten’s Spa, pictured here) is geared toward raising good race horses in a truly organic way and a touch of Virginia history.

Like Mellon, and others of his ilk, rain rot and sunburn be damned as Ramsey Farm manager Mark Partridge points out “We raise them for the race track not the show ring. That is probably one of the reasons we are doing so well. They are used to running with 30 head in a field. We have 70-acre fields out there that are up and down hill. They are running across there, biting each other as they are running.”

Yes, they are…

Ramsey’s winning streak into the big time includes the 2004 Virginia Derby Gr. 2 with now foundation sire Kitten’s Joy.

Here’s more in a profile from ESPN:

By Amanda Duckworth | Special to ESPN.com

Anymore, most horses you see on the track are racing for an owner who bought them at a sale. The game needs auctions to continue because many of the players aren’t interested in the breeding aspect of the industry. They only want to race.

For instance, the marathon Keeneland September yearling sale is currently in its second week. Horses are swapping hands, money is being spent, and the sale continues to validate its revered place on the calendar. After all, at the start of September, 91 horses that trotted through that auction ring as yearlings have gone on to win graded/group stakes to date in 2013, including 29 Grade/Group 1 winners.

However, what makes this sport so great is that there is no one way to taste success at its highest levels. Take for instance the fascinating case of Ken Ramsey and Kitten’s Joy.

Ramsey bred and raced Kitten’s Joy, who retired a champion. Although he has a beautiful pedigree and was undeniably talented, Kitten’s Joy didn’t exactly have breeders falling all over themselves when it came time to send mares to him. Why? He was a turf horse, and most of the time, turf horses are the red-headed stepchildren of the American racing scene.

A little thing like industry-wide doubt has never stopped Ramsey though. He strategically acquired well-bred fillies that had fallen into the claiming ranks for one reason or another and filled Kitten’s Joy’s book that way.

It may have been a joke at the time, but no one is laughing now. In August, Ramsey Farm won three Grade 1 races in a single day with three homebred sons of Kitten’s Joy, including the Arlington Million. The horse is at the top of all the sire lists and the farm is at the top of the leading breeder and owner lists. After that historic day, a significant statistic came to light: of Kitten’s Joy’s 38 stakes winners, Ramsey Farm bred 36 of them.

“We are breeding to race, which is quite different from most of the farms,” said Ramsey. “Unless it is too hot, the horses are out there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can have ice in their manes. We raise them tough, and they run tough.”


Kitten’s Spa (Horsephotos.com/ESPN)

In other words, those 36 stakes winners grew up a bit differently than horses destined for the sales ring. Ramsey and his farm manager, Mark Partridge, never had to worry about making sure those foals’ coats didn’t get sun-bleached or if they played too rough with their paddock mates. Instead, they focused on letting them be, well, horses.

“We raise them for the race track not the show ring,” said Partridge. “That is probably one of the reasons we are doing so well. They are used to running with 30 head in a field. We have 70-acre fields out there that are up and down hill. They are running across there, biting each other as they are running.”

Another thing Ramsey takes pride in is the fact that the horses on Ramsey Farm don’t drink city water. Instead, they have set up a system to pull water from springs and creeks that are on farm property.

“There is no chlorine, no fluoride, none of that,” said Ramsey. “The water is out of springs and creeks that flow from our farm. If given the choice of drinking spring water or city water, they will drink the spring water every time. I drink it myself. If it is good enough for my horses, it is good enough for me.”

A perk of being a Ramsey horse is taking daily trips to “Kitten’s Spa.” Although originally built just for Kitten’s Joy, the spa is now used for any horse on the farm. It features an underwater treadmill with whirlpool jets that can be heated in cooler weather, followed by a stint on a vibrating platform that has a solarium-esque heat lamp above it.

“Any muscles that are tense, it will work that out,” said Partridge. “In the winter time, the heat is needed because they can’t leave here soaking wet. They all love it and find it very relaxing.”

Kitten’s Joy, of course, gets first dibs at the spa. During the breeding season, he will go three times a week, and in the off-season he goes five.

Right now, the horse that is second in line for the spa is multiple Grade 1 winner and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf heroine Stephanie’s Kitten, who is getting some time off due to bone soreness. After her stint at the spa, she is turned out during the day so she can graze her fill and then is in her stall at night.

CNL7- Kitten's Joy

Ramsey, Prado and Kitten’s Joy. (Coady Photography)

“She’s enjoying being a horse and having time with ‘Dr. Green’,” Ramsey said. “She’s very gentle, and she is probably the most valuable mare we have on the farm. She’s a nice horse, and she could get invited to just about any place she wants to go.”

I can testify that she is enjoying her time grazing in the Bluegrass … and taking naps. During my visit to Ramsey Farm, Stephanie’s Kitten was flat out asleep in her paddock and needed quite a bit of encouragement to come say hello. Once awake, she was as sweet as Ramsey claimed, but anyone who has watched her run knows that demeanor disappears on the racetrack. She likes to win, and the Ramseys intend to run her in 2014.

“We want to campaign her next year,” confirmed Partridge. “We are thinking about England because if she comes back and wins another Grade 1 in America, it is not that big of a deal. But if she does it in England, it is huge for the stallion.”

Stephanie’s Kitten’s relaxed manner on the farm could be applied to every horse we stopped to visit. From Kitten’s Joy to recently weaned foals, all of the horses were content to come up to the fence to say hello.

Ramsey’s way might not be the normal way, but it certainly works for both himself and his horses.

Visits: 183


war dancer outside august 11

WAR DANCER (Outside) (NYRA Photo)

(Editor’s Note: VA-Derby winner War Dancer was sixth in the Travers Aug 24 at Saratoga.) To see the Equibase Chart, click here

Virginia Derby winner War Dancer’s assault on the Midsummer Derby isn’t exactly like riding a bicycle up Mount Everest, but it surely is a very steep climb when the son of super hot sire War Front tackles today’s $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.  Never mind the switch to dirt and skipping the $500,000 Secretariat Stakes Gr.1 run last weekend over the same distance and surface as the Virginia Derby, the real challenge looks to be a very competitive and deep field that includes two-thirds of the Triple Crown and an impressive Haskell winner.

War Dancer is owned by Magdalena Racing (Susan McPeek) so his connections are playing with house money. If the three-year-old colt, out of Deed I Do by Alydeed, is holding his Virginia Derby form in the mornings, why not take a swing at the big time?

The Travers offers an extra $500,000 in purse and a huge uptick in value in the breeding shed.  As successful as War Dancer’s sire (War Front) has been so far, his sons are sure to be well received especially if he has won important races at both dirt and turf at the classic distance of 10 furlongs.  A win in the Grade 1 Travers would put War Dancer’s stud value through the roof in a way the Grade 1 Secretariat could not.

The big obstacle facing trainer McPeek, who conquered this race last year when longshot Golden Ticket finished first in a dead heat with Alpha, is the competition.  It’s best to describe the competition as stiff at best.

Nobody ever said winning a million dollar grade one would be easy, but this Travers seems full of speed and talent.

It’s not unusual for a Kentucky Derby, Belmont or Haskell winner to turn up in the gate at the end of August in upstate New York.  But rare is an addition that includes all three.

Orb is the reigning Derby champion and that is cause for plenty of respect. He thrived at Fair Hill and his Hall of Fame trainer seems quite content with this training of late.  In addition, few have entered this race recently with the resume and current form of Palace Malice and Verrazano.

The Belmont winner impressively won the major Travers’ prep, the Jim Dandy, and Verrazano has but one clunker on his resume that includes six wins from seven starts at $1,551,300 in earnings.  He’s impressively won the Pegasus Gr. 3 and the Haskel Gr. 1 since his one flop in the Kentucky Derby.

The field also runs long on talented potential with Moreno (third in the Jim Dandy and winner of the Dwyer Stakes Gr. 2 at Belmont), Will Take Charge ($665,371 who looks to be recapturing his Arkansas form finishing second in the Jim Dandy) and Golden Soul ($527,400, second in the Kentucky Derby).

Then there is the matter of the Virginia Derby moving up from its current Grade 2 status.  Some would say the race should already be a Grade 1 off the impressive careers of Kitten’s Joy, English Channel and Gio Ponti, so surely War Dancer winning the Travers would tip the scale once and for all.

With all of that said, Saratoga is keen on a good upset, so maybe the McPeek’s gamble will pay off in more ways than one…?

Visits: 122




Virginia Derby winner War Dancer will switch back to the main track and try to defeat a deep field in the 10 furlong $1 million Travers Stakes Gr. 1 at Saratoga on Saturday. It will be the son of War Front’s second start on the dirt this year where he will join morning line favorite and Haskell winner Verazano, Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy Stakes winner Palace Malice.

Last year, War Dancer’s trainer Ken McPeek sent long shot Golden Ticket out to hit the wire simultaneously with the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Alpha for the first dead-heat in modern Travers history.

Leading Saratoga trainer Todd Pletcher looks to capture the 144th edition of the Midsummer Derby entering Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice (#8) coming off a solid win in the $600,000 Jim Dandy Gr.2 score and Verrazano (#3) who won the $1 million Haskell Gr. 1 impressively a day later.

Verrazano, under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, was installed by oddsmaker Eric Donovan as the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, while Palace Malice is the 5-2 second choice with another Hall of Famer Mike Smith up.

Orb, who races for Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III under the capable supervision of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, has not raced since that June 8 test at Belmont Park. Instead, the 4-1 third choice on the Travers morning line enjoyed his stay at the Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, MD prepping for Saturday’s summer classic.

According to trainer Shug McGuaghey, the Malibu Moon colt has gained some weight and is likely mentally sharper than the tired horse post Triple Crown.

Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge and Southern Equine Stable’s Moreno return from respective second- and third-place finishes in the Jim Dandy to tackle the division leaders once again.

Completing the field are Golden Soul, runner up to Orb in the Kentucky Derby but a dull ninth in the Belmont and seventh n the Haskell, Romansh, a lightly raced son of 2006 Travers winner Bernardini who is trained by Tom Albertrani for Darley Stable, and Transparent, also by Bernardini, who races for Darley and McLaughlin.

Visits: 99


Virginia Derby favorite Rydilluc and third place finisher Jack Milton will take on a full field of 11 other three-year-olds in the $500,000 Secretariat Stakes Gr. 1 on today’s Arlington Million card.

Trainer Gary Contessa scratched Rydilluc from last weeks National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame S. Gr3 at Saratoga when rain forced the event onto a sloppy main track.

Contessa  he could have opted to keep Rydilluc in upstate New York for the nine furlong Saranac Stakes Gr. 3 on September 1st,  he instead breezed the colt a bullet five-eighths of a mile last Sunday and is headed to Chicago for the Grade 1 Secretariat.

The bay established himself as one of the top turf runners of his generation with victories in the Palm Beach S. Gr.3 in March and in the inaugural Penn Mile June 1st. He stretched out to a mile and a quarter for the first time in the $500,000 Virginia Derby Gr.2 in mid- July , but faded to finish eighth.

Contessa chalked that result up to Colonial Downs’ turf course that was softened by rain.

Jack Milton  gets a chance to become the latest hit for his sensational young sire War Front. Already the winner of the  Transylvania Stakes Gr. 3 at Keeneland. in April, the Gary Barber runner was a fast-closing third to Rydilluc at Penn National and was third by a neck behind War Dancer (War Front) in the Virginia Derby last time out.

To see the entries, click here.

Visits: 83


Notacatbutallama the hall of fame2After a lackluster effort on a less than firm turf course at Colonial Downs in the $500,000 Virginia Derby Gr.2, trainer Gary Contessa opted to scratch morning line favorite Rydilluc after rain softened up the Saratoga turf course.  Va-Derby runner-up Charming Kitten, stayed in for the $200,000 Hall of Fame Stakes which was moved to the sloppy main track, but could only muster a fourth place finish in a short field.

Repole Stables’ Notacatbutallama, given plenty of rallying room along the inside, outfought North Slope to capture the the feature with MTO entry Battier coming in third.

With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, Notacatbutallama earned his third consecutive stakes win and the second graded victory of his career. He was one of three sophomores trained by Todd Pletcher in the field of five three-year-olds.

With the $196,000 race taken off the turf, it is automatically reduced to a Grade 3 pending a final review by the American Grades Stakes Committee. The race was originally scheduled for 1 1/16 miles but was instead contested at 1 ⅛ miles.

Balance the Books was also scratched.

New York-bred Notacatbutallama was timed in 1:52.29 over the trying conditions.

The winner does have a Virginia connection being by Harlan’s Holiday, out of Self Rising by Virginia-bred classic winner Hansel.

Visits: 171



RYDILLUC (KentuckyDerby.com)

Virginia Derby runner-up Charming Kitten and race favorite Rydilluc will face off again today at Saratoga in the $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes Gr.2.

This will mark the fourth time the two have met – Rydilluc topped the exacta in the 1 1/8 mile Palm Beach S. Gr.3 at Gulfstream Mar. 3, while Charming Kitten was third, one placing above Rydilluc, in the  GI Blue Grass S. over the Keeneland synthetic Apr. 13. The Gary Contessa-trained Rydilluc again topped that pair’s exacta in the Penn Mile June 1.

The two three-year-olds last knocked heads in the $500,000 Virginia Derby Gr.2 at Colonial Downs where Charming Kitten missed by a head to War Dancer and Rydilluc seemed not to favor the going according to trainer Gary Contessa.

“I think that horse [Charming Kitten] and my horse probably know each other,” Contessa told BRISNET. “They probably talk to each other going down the backside. I mean, they’ve run against each other so many times.”

Rydilluc was undefeated in four career starts on turf heading into the Virginia Derby, but faded to eighth in the final quarter-mile.

“I still think Rydilluc is a sensational horse, and he’s worked fantastic,” Contessa said. “I believe we ran poorly because the turf was soft [at Colonial Downs], and my horse has trained very well since. His work the other day was poetry in motion. He looked phenomenal, and I had the first quarter in 25 [seconds] flat and the last quarter in :22 ¼.”

“He’s run really well, and we were just a little unfortunate the other day [in the Virginia Derby] when he just missed,” trainer Todd Pletcher told BRISNET. “He consistently shows up and runs hard every time. It’s just been unfortunate. I think he’s coming up to this in really good order.”

The two old rivals will face four others in the 1 1/16 miles test on the turf including Get in Line, Notacatbutallama, North Slope and Balance the Books.

To see the entries, click here.

Visits: 99


2013clnstatsHorseracing, like baseball, is driven by numbers.  While most folks walking around will claim no efficiency in the fine art of math, almost everyone involved in horseracing follows the numbers from bettors to breeders.

So when the numbers come in from the just completed meet at Colonial Downs the tendency is to try and figure out what they mean.

We received two sets of numbers recently for the just completed meet from Dave Lermond of the Virginia Racing Commission and Frank Petramalo of the Virginia H.B.P.A.  Not surprisingly they were very similar and showed the same disturbing trends.

Like the numbers revealed in a recent article by the Virginian Pilot published on Virginia Derby Day, the most important numbers continue to trend downward.  The moral of the story is simply that the staus quo is moving us all in the wrong direction.

While the number of racing days and races were down -22.5% and -29.5%, those numbers aren’t critically important and down by simple fact that the meet was shortened from 31 to 24 days.  Fewer race days mean fewer races, no mystery there.

The disturbing numbers are those that depict “daily averages” as they give a fairly close comparison of what happened throughout the meet on a daily basis compared to the same statistical set in 2012.

The good news is the number of horses per raced increased from 8.4 to 8.8.  This seems to defuse the concern that the shorter meet would cause various horsemen who shipped in to abandon the meet causing a negative impact.  This scenario proved to be accurate when Florida horsemen stayed home buoyed by competing meets at Calder and Gulfstream, but others showed up to fill the starting gate.

The Virginia HBPA and Colonial Downs took steps to mitigate this impact by re-instituting the free shuttle.  As a result, the shuttle averaged 7.2 horses per day which is just one horse shy of the average field.

The other average daily numbers of import did not fare as well.  Average daily attendance dropped ever so slightly from 2,008 per day to 1,942.  This tells us the model is at least consistent.  Competition, weather and traffic were no better or worse than last year and the attendance pattern looks to be fairly stable.

That said, according to Petramalo’s figures, attendance was down on both the Virginia Derby Day and Colonial Turf Cup Day and up on the Fourth of July and Father’s Day

when special events looked to have drawn a bigger crowd.  The Commonwealth Turf Festival posted bigger attendance number when moved from Friday night in 2012 to Saturday in 2013.  However, somewhat consistent with the date change, total handle dropped from over $744,000 in 2012 to over $472,000 in 2013.


Virginia Derby day attendance fell from 6,703 last year to 6,040 (-9.8%) and Turf Cup day dropped from 3,655 to 2,777, a 24% decline.  No doubt weather and traffic were factors, but the trends continue in the wrong direction for attendance for the track’s two biggest races.

One might assume from the Fourth of July and Father’s Day crowds which both showed significant crowd increases that fireworks are more important than graded stakes and good horses.  Disappointing, to say the least.

Average daily handle increased from $116,582 in 2012 to $118,086 this year, but of great concern to all involved is that the daily average for simulcast signal sales continues to trend downward – $493,655 in 2012 and $488,384 in 2013.  That’s only a decrease of 1.07% which is a statistical blip in the grand scheme of things, but in seems to be running contrary to general economic conditions.  With a shorter meet with higher overnight purses ($151,434 this year as compared to $131,490 last year) and a similar schedule, one would look for numbers to creep up, not down.

Virginia-breds remained consistent posting 16% of the total starts – some 394 last year and 297 this year.  More Virginia-breds, in terms of the total percentage, were winners as 35 (17%) scored this year as opposed to 46 (15%) last year.

We will post more on this later when other stakeholders weigh in on these figures.

Visits: 94


WAR DANCER (Center) (Coady Photography)

WAR DANCER (Center) (Coady Photography)

According to the Thoroughbred Daily News, trainer Ken McPeek has high hopes for Saratoga, targeting two grade 1 events – the Alabama and the Travers.

McPeek is considering grade 2 Virginia Derby hero War Dancer, who made six of his seven starts on the turf, for the Travers. The colt’s sole dirt start was in a Gulfstream Park maiden Feb. 9, where he was fourth to graded stakes placed Saint Vigeur.

“We know he wants a mile and a quarter,” McPeek said. It’s obviously his distance, but can he handle the surface switch? I think he can. War Front (War Dancer’s sire) himself never ran once on the turf. We’ve got to defend our title with somebody.”

McPeek won last year’s Travers with Golden Ticket in a dead heat with Alpha .

“The other thing we’re looking at is, we do think the three-year-old season is wide open, and the stud value it would add to him would be dramatic. He would be one of the top 3-year-olds if we could sneak our way into a Grade I dirt race.”

Another possibility for War Dancer would have beenthe Grade 1 Secretariat S. on the grass at Arlington Park, but McPeek has decided to point GI Blue Grass S. winner Java’s War at that race instead.

“Why butt heads against ourselves?” McPeek asked. “We could easily get beat over there and wish we had run here. [War Dancer] never worked on the turf once. He’s worked on the dirt every time. He works with all our best horses on the dirt. It just so happens he ended up on the grass in a series of races.”

Visits: 93


Photo courtesy of PAULICK REPORT

Photo courtesy of PAULICK REPORT

by Natalie Voss | 07.15.2013 | 11:57am

(Editor’s Note: Natalie Voss was a VTA intern some years back and spent a summer at Colonial Downs.  Her article is well done as we’d expect and some of the comments are accurate while others [regarding VA’s source market fee and CLN share of same] are not…)

It’s 6:10 p.m. on Saturday at Colonial Downs, two hours before the post time of the track’s biggest race of the year, and from inside the press box you can tell there’s a crowd outside.

Even when the band, which seems to be playing covers typical of wedding receptions, takes a break, there’s a buzz rising from the apron. Fans are two or three deep in spots along the rail, and the crowd thickens once the horses leave the paddock for the post parade. It’s not quite standing room only—a few families have brought folding chairs or quilts, treating the night like a picnic— but it’s close. There are groups of girls wearing fancy hats like the ones they’d seen on TV this past May; families with little kids; young couples out for a date.

On Friday night, the eve of Virginia Derby day, the crowd was lighter but its demographics weren’t much different. People gathered in clusters wherever the horses were, trying to sort out which number they thought was prettiest, or which one Horacio Karamanos was on.

To read the rest of Natalie’s post, click here.

Visits: 108


BizJuly162013Original post by Nick Hahn on Jul 15, 2013 in BreakingTop StoriesVirginiaVirginia Racing

by Nick Hahn

The third time at Colonial Downs was the charm in the Virginia Derby for Ken McPeek, the trainer of winning three-year old colt War Dancer. As the sun set on Saturday night, McPeek stood in the winner’s circle, answering questions on the triumph and touting the Horse Races Now mobile application he developed. McPeek had brought his talented three-year old Prince Arch to Colonial Downs in 2004 only to find Artie Schiller and Kitten’s Joy in the field and run third. In 2008, he brought Old Man Buck and only beat one horse.

This time it was different.

To read the retst of Nick’s post, click here.

Visits: 115
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