Kenneth Ramsey prefers not to use the term “bucket list.”
But when you’re 80 and have never come close to being in the winner’s circle at the event you first attended with an aunt when you were 6, well….
“I’ve still got some goals,” said Ramsey, who, with his wife Sarah has won four Eclipse Awards as the nation’s most outstanding thoroughbred owner. “We’re making a big push this year to win at Royal Ascot.
“But the Kentucky Derby is one that’s always up there for me.”
That’s why Ramsey is taking his shot again this year with International Star, the likely favorite in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. An anticipated field of eight will be announced Wednesday.
International Star, who will ship in from his home base at Gulfstream Park in Miami, already has his place in the Kentucky Derby assured thanks to victories in the Lecomte and Risen Star.
His 71 points put him second in the qualifying standings, far more than the 25 or so needed to make the cut for the field of 20.
“We’re not going to kill him trying to win this race,” Ramsey said. “If he can, fine.
“If not, that’s OK. Our focus is on the Kentucky Derby, so we’re just trying to get him there in one piece.”
Ramsey was in a similar position last year with Vicar’s in Trouble. The Louisiana-bred went to Louisville No. 2 in the standings with 120 points, 100 of them earned with his rousing victory in the Louisiana Derby.
But points meant little in the actual race. Drawing the rail position, Vicar’s in Trouble was bounced twice early on and fell so far behind that jockey Rosie Napravnik eased him into a last-place finish.
We Miss Artie, Ramsey’s other entry in the Derby, finished 10th. That left Ten Cents a Shine’s eighth-place finish in 2003 as the best of Ramsey’s six Derby showings.
“We knew the No. 1 spot wasn’t good for him,” Ramsey said. “Rosie might have overtaken two or three horses there at the end, but she did the right thing in holding him back for another day.”
Vicar’s in Trouble came back to win the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, but in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, trying to beat his half-brother, Goldencents, he suffered a fracture in his left front fetlock joint.
Although efforts have been made to get the horse back into training, Mark Partridge, manager of Ramsey Farm, Kenneth Ramsey’s breeding operation in Nicholasville, Kentucky, said it is “highly unlikely” Vicar will be fit enough to race again.
Partridge added that Vicar has been unable to attract much breeding interest in Kentucky and that no one in Louisiana has offered to buy him as yet, although there is hope for the 2016 breeding season.
“Unless you win a Grade I stakes, it’s tough,” Partridge said.
International Star has no Louisiana roots. In fact, unlike Vicar, who stabled at the Fair Grounds last year with trainer Joe Sharp, International Star’s only trips to the Bayou State have been the weekend visits for the Lecomte and Risen Star because Ramsey wants him under the eye trainer Mike Maker.
But International Star has proven to be a good traveler. His eight starts have come at six tracks and on turf and the synthetic surface as well as the dirt of the Fair Grounds.
“At first, we thought he was going to be a turf horse,” Ramsey said. “But now he’s shown us he’s a good closing dirt horse.
“That’s the kind of horse you’ve got to have if you’re going to Churchill and hopefully beyond.”
But despite International Star’s showing thus far and his pedigree (he’s the son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus), he’s only No. 6 in ESPN’s latest Derby rankings. A smallish, lightly-regarded field in the Louisiana Derby won’t help his status much.
“He’s a little under the radar right now, even though his Beyer numbers are going up every race,” Ramsey said. “But I can’t blame the ones who don’t think much of him yet.
“When we get there, I’m going to love where the money is.”
Besides, Ramsey added, this wasn’t really supposed to be his “year” to challenge in the Derby. He currently had 23 two-year-old colts in training, out of which he expects three or four to emerge as Derby contenders in 2016.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Ramsey doesn’t care whether his white and red racking silks with the giant “R” on the shirtfront still greets patrons to the Fair Grounds for another befitting his Louisiana Derby triumph.
“We celebrate pretty well, whether it’s a claiming race, an allowance or a big stakes race,” he said. “I really like those little red crawdads they serve down there.”