Ken Ramsey Wants to Win Royal Ascot. Very Badly.

Ken Ramsey Wants to Win Royal Ascot. Very Badly.

Ken Ramsey’s driven personality allowed him to overcome humble beginnings, including a childhood home in Artemis, Ky., that lacked indoor plumbing, to make a fortune in trucking, real estate and cellular telephones and to become one of the top owners and breeders in the United States.

He and his wife, Sarah Kathern, won the Eclipse Award as leading thoroughbred owners in North America in 2004, 2011, 2013 and 2014. They won the Eclipse Award as leading breeders in 2013 and 2014. He fulfilled one of his ambitions when the jockey John Velazquez rode Roses in May to victory in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in 2005.

Ramsey, 83, is accustomed to achieving what he wants. Certain targets in racing, though, have been maddeningly elusive, including a stakes victory at Royal Ascot.

“The Royal Ascot thing,” he said, “that’s going to stay on my bucket list until I kick the bucket.”

In a quest that began in 2001, he has endured two exasperatingly close second-place finishes from among 15 starters, according to Racenews, at what he describes as “the world’s greatest meet.”

Steaming Home placed second in the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes in 2001. Cannonball narrowly missed in the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2009.

Circumstances surrounding Cannonball’s furious charge spur Ramsey all the more. Cannonball initially ran in the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes on opening day of the meet, finishing sixth for Velazquez. The horse was so full of late run and galloped out so strongly after crossing the finish line that Velazquez recommended to the trainer Wesley Ward that he make the unorthodox move of bringing back the horse on three days’ rest to compete in the Diamond Jubilee.

When Ward agreed, there was one major problem. Velazquez said he could not remain in England because he was committed to a riding assignment at Belmont Park in New York on the same day as the Diamond Jubilee. Ward reluctantly replaced Velazquez with Olivier Peslier.

“Had we had Johnny, who knew the horse and had confidence in him, I’m certain he would have won,” Ward said.

Ramsey was so angry that he refused to have Velazquez, a member of the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, ride any of his horses for one year. Velazquez this month confirmed Ramsey’s reaction, but emphasized the unbreakable nature of his commitments.

Ramsey thought he had another shot in 2011 when Ward, whose horses are known for blazing starts, saddled Holiday for Kitten in the King’s Stand Stakes. She languished in 13th in a defeat that underscores racing’s vagaries. She had her head down and was ill prepared when the starting gate opened.

“It was a sprint race,” said Jeff Ramsey, Ken Ramsey’s son, “and they were all gone by the time she realized the bell had rung.”

Ward built his reputation by going overseas to produce 10 Royal Ascot victories. He is disappointed he has been unable to deliver for Ramsey.

“I just thought it would have come by now,” the trainer said. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t.”

Gianluca Bietolini, Chad Brown, David Lanigan and Dermot Weld also fell short for Ramsey after being charged with developing a Royal Ascot winner.

Ramsey points to one Royal Ascot highlight. He was invited to join Queen Elizabeth II for tea at the track in 2009, which he said lasted for 35 minutes.

Upon arriving at the suite, Ramsey said he told the queen, “Ma’am, I believe you’ve got the best seat in the house.”

When tea arrived, he said the queen offered cream and sugar. “No, ma’am,” he responded. “I drink mine straight up.”

To which she replied, “Oh, like the bourbon in Kentucky.”

Ramsey, also without a Kentucky Derby victory, yearns to receive a trophy from the queen after a Royal Ascot triumph. He is reducing an operation that numbered about 700 horses to one with fewer than 100 in an effort to improve quality. He is allowing Ward his pick of about 90 yearlings with the hope that a few might become top Royal Ascot prospects.

“Good things come to those who wait,” Ward said. “I know he’s waited a long time, but we’re going to do it for him.”

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