Ken Ramsey, second from right, accepting the barrel-head trophy – to be customized in his white and red silks – after securing his record ninth owners title at Kentucky Downs’ 2023 meet. Also pictured: Ramsey’s son Jeff (far right), farm manager Mark Partridge (center), leading jockey Tyler Gaffalione and Paul Madden (far left), assistant to leading trainer Brendan Walsh. (Coady Photography)
‘It’s like my last hurrah… I’d like to go out with a blaze of glory.’
By Jennie Rees/National HBPA
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Ken Ramsey is back at the Claiming Crown. If he has only three horses (in two races) running in the program designed to showcase American horse racing’s blue-collar horses, it’s not for a lack of effort.
Ramsey is the winningest owner in the history of the Claiming Crown, which will be staged for the 25th time this Saturday at the historic Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. But his last starter came with Peru, whose victory in the 2018 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream Park extended Ramsey’s record in the program to 16.
“I’m trying to pad my résumé,” quipped Ramsey, who significantly downsized his once massive racing operation in recent years. “… I was trying to get a horse for each (Claiming Crown) race. I started looking when they finished up last year. I decided, hey, I’m going to get back in the game. I’d downsized and I had a few health issues and I’ve not been as active. But I enjoyed it so much and missed it so much that I started claiming some. I probably claimed 20 horses this year – and got out-shook for probably three times that many.
“… I just turned 88. I’m kind of an old fossil. I’m probably getting pretty close to the finish line, so I’d like to go out with a blaze of glory.”
The Claiming Crown, conceived to be a Breeders’ Cup-style event for claiming horses, was created in 1999 by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). The program gives thoroughbred racing’s workhorses, their owners and trainers a day in the spotlight in recognition of their importance to filling out race cards across the nation.
Though he and his late wife, Sarah, became major players internationally — earning four Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner and two as outstanding breeder, as well as four Breeders’ Cup victories and the Dubai World Cup — Ramsey burst on the scene as a Pick Six bettor and by claiming lots of horses and winning lots of races. Extremely goal-oriented, Ramsey put his mind to setting records for meet titles at wins at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Kentucky Downs – in the process becoming the winningest owner in Kentucky history.
The Claiming Crown became a major goal as well, one now off hiatus.
In King’s Ovation, Ramsey has one of the favorites for the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles for horses that have competed for a claiming price of $35,000 in 2023. Ramsey claimed King’s Ovation for $62,500 at Keeneland – a race he won impressively – in his last start. The owner also has Shimmer Me Timbers and Cotton in the $150,000 Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for horses that have raced for a $25,000 claiming price or less in 2022-2023. All three were claimed out of their last start specifically for the Claiming Crown, he said.
“It gives the little guy a chance to strike a home run,” Ramsey said of the Claiming Crown. “The purses are good, and the competition is good. They spread it around. It’s been at about four or five different tracks. I used to never miss, would have three, four or five running in it all the time. But I’m back to feeling good. I’m looking forward to Saturday so I can try to add another one.”
King’s Ovation and Shimmer Me Timbers are trained by Robertino Diodoro, while Saffie Joseph trains Cotton.
Diodoro began training for Ramsey this past spring.
“I’d have loved to have seen this guy when he was about 45 years old,” the trainer said of Ramsey. “I give him a lot of credit. He’s full of a lot of energy and I love his attitude. He loves the game — and loves winning.”