August 11, 2022

Champion, renowned sire Kitten’s Joy dies at 21

Kitten's Joy with owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey at Lone Star Park in 2004 (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Champion turf horse and renowned sire Kitten’s Joy has died at the age of 21, Ramsey Farm reported on social media Friday afternoon. The news comes within two months of the passing of Sarah Ramsey, nicknamed “Kitten” by husband Ken, thereby giving rise to a number of equine namesakes.

A Ramsey homebred, Kitten’s Joy was produced by Sarah’s first horse, the aptly-named Kitten’s First. The flashy chestnut son of El Prado was offered as a two-year-old in training at OBS April in 2003, but RNA’d for $95,000. That reserve price kept him in the Ramsey fold, initially as a turf star and ultimately as a leading sire.

Trained throughout his career by Dale Romans, Kitten’s Joy romped in his third start, but first turf opportunity, as a juvenile at Belmont Park. That was the beginning of a five-race winning spree highlighted by the 2004 Tropical Park Derby (G3), Palm Beach (G3), and American Turf (G3). His skein was snapped by a head loss in the Jefferson Cup (G3), but he promptly rebounded with a daylight victory over Artie Schiller in the Virginia Derby (G3).

Kitten’s Joy reiterated his status as the top turf sophomore in the Secretariat (G1), then bossed older horses in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1). The 7-10 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Lone Star Park, he wound up second to veteran Better Talk Now.

Honored as champion turf male of 2004, Kitten’s Joy also propelled the Ramseys to their first Eclipse Award as outstanding owner. He returned triumphant in the 2005 Firecracker H. (G2), but his second start back, a runner-up effort to Powerscourt in the Arlington Million (G1), turned out to be his last. Kitten’s Joy retired with a mark of 14-9-4-0, $2,075,791.

Kittens Joy gallops at Lone Star Park for the Breeders Cup Turf (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Entering stud at Ramsey Farm, Kitten’s Joy soon emerged as a premier exponent of the Sadler’s Wells sire line in North America. Several of his top performers also sported the Ramsey silks, most notably two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Stephanie’s Kitten, who captured the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) and 2015 Filly & Mare Turf (G1); champion Big Blue Kitten; Real Solution; Kitten’s Dumplings; Admiral Kitten; and Bobby’s Kitten, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) victor.

Kitten’s Joy transcended the Ramsey orbit, however, by delivering world-class runners for international connections. Qatar Racing’s Roaring Lion became a European champion with a string of four Group 1s in 2018 – the Eclipse (G1), Juddmonte International (G1), Irish Champion (G1), and Queen Elizabeth II (G1). Kameko furnished a second act, so to speak, for Qatar Racing when landing the 2019 Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) and 2000 Guineas (G1) in 2020. Godolphin’s Hawkbill used a score in the 2016 Eclipse to rank as a highweight in England during his sophomore campaign before becoming a Group 1 globetrotter.

While Roaring Lion sadly died young after just beginning his career as a shuttle stallion, Kameko and Bobby’s Kitten hold court in England, and Hawkbill stands at Darley Japan, Kitten’s Joy has a potential heir stateside in Oscar Performance. The brilliant winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) added the 2017 Belmont Derby (G1) and Secretariat, along with the 2018 Woodbine Mile (G1) and Poker (G3) in a record 1:31.23 at Belmont Park. Oscar Performance is off to a fine start as a freshman sire of 2022.

Other Grade 1 winners by Kitten’s Joy include Sadler’s Joy, Divisidero, Henley’s Joy, and interestingly Tripoli, who earned his laurel on dirt in the 2021 Pacific Classic (G1). Topping his headliners this season is Edgewood (G2) romper New Year’s Eve.

As a broodmare sire, Kitten’s Joy is responsible for 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf hero Fire at Will, Grade 1 upsetter Channel Cat, Sovereign Award winner Admiralty Pier, Chilean Group 1 and North American stakes scorer First Constitution, and such graded performers as Spooky Channel and Fluffy Socks.

Kitten’s Joy, who transferred to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm for the 2018 breeding season, twice topped the North American general sire list and ranked as the top turf sire for seven consecutive years. He stood for a $50,000 fee in 2022.

Hill ‘n’ Dale revealed more information on his passing in a Friday press release. Kitten’s Joy was turned out as usual early in the morning, but was found dead in his paddock around 10:30 a.m. (ET). A heart attack is the suspected cause of death.

Kitten’s Joy at Lone Star Park (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Aside from being a scion of the Sadler’s Wells line, Kitten’s Joy hailed from a superb broodmare in Kitten’s First. The daughter of Lear Fan, a $41,000 purchase as an OBS March juvenile, showed promise by winning her debut. Kitten’s First was dispatched as the 1.30-1 favorite next time in the Junior Champion S., but unfortunately was pulled up and never raced again. She expressed her untapped talent through her progeny and their descendants.

Her first foal, multiple stakes scorer Justenuffheart, produced champion Dreaming of Anna (herself the dam of Grade 1-placed Fast Anna and Grade 3 vixen Dreamologist) and multiple Grade 2 heroes Lewis Michael and Justenuffhumor. Kitten’s First later had an even more successful daughter, three-time Grade 1 star and $1.9 million-earner Precious Kitten, who would go on to produce Grade 3 scorers Divining Rod (third in the 2015 Preakness [G1]) and Jehozacat.

But Kitten’s First left her greatest legacy through Kitten’s Joy, whose influence will endure the world over.

“It was an honor and a privilege to have been entrusted to advance the career of what I believe to be one of the most important international turf sires of this century,” Hill ‘n’ Dale’s John Sikura said. “This stallion is a tribute to one of the modern era’s most creative minds, namely Ken Ramsey. This horse was a part of our family, but perhaps even more so to the Ramsey family. This is a great loss to the industry and to the Ramseys.”

“It is devastating to lose both my wife and her favorite horse in such a short period of time,” Ramsey said in the Hill ‘n’ Dale statement. “My wife said ‘this horse will bring us a lot of joy,’ and he certainly did. John Sikura was as good a partner as anyone could ever hope for.

“Kitten’s Joy was the horse of a lifetime. His name will be in pedigrees for generations to come.”