As he held court at Keeneland on Wednesday, Ken Ramsey was his usual enthusiastic self, happily doling out anecdotes while dutifully fielding every question that came his way.
Considering his colt Pleasant Prince had just been named the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a field of nine for Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, it was a conversation Ramsey was happy to have.
But as the Nicholasville-based owner dissected his horse's chances for the 11⁄8-mile race, he admitted the discussion was one he didn't think would be necessary three weeks earlier.
Ever since Pleasant Prince lost the Grade I, $750,000 Florida Derby in a photo finish to Ice Box on March 20, that heartbreak has proven to be two-fold for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
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Not only did he just miss winning the Grade I race, but Pleasant Prince could miss the Kentucky Derby if he doesn't add to his graded-stakes earnings of $162,500.
In most other seasons, the $150,000 Pleasant Prince earned for his Florida Derby effort would have been enough to put him in the top 20 of the graded-earnings list, which is used to determine the Derby field should more than 20 horses enter.
This year, however, Pleasant Prince's earnings rank 26th on the current list — the reason the son of Indy King is making his fifth start of 2010.
"If I'd been assured he would have got in (to the Derby field), we wouldn't have run him here because he already has four races this year, and that is a little too much if you're going on the Triple Crown trail," Ken Ramsey said. "I think $162,500 would have got us in every single Derby except for 2008. But with the extra races they have this year, they've got the ($800,000) Sunland Derby, everyone is trying to get in ... and I don't think $162,500 will do it.
"If the photo had been the other way down at the Florida Derby, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Though Pleasant Prince has done his best running on dirt, the colt isn't a total novice to Keeneland's Polytrack surface.
In his second career start, Pleasant Prince finished third in a maiden race at Keeneland last October before earning his lone career win at Churchill Downs one month later.
During his final tuneup for the Blue Grass, Pleasant Prince sizzled over 5 furlongs in :58.40 at Keeneland on Sunday.
"That was about as good as a horse can work," trainer Wesley Ward said after the breeze.
Pleasant Prince has improved as the distances stretched out, running second to Ice Box in January during a 11⁄8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream before finishing fourth behind Wood Memorial winner Eskendereya in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 20.
The thought of running his colt three times in six weeks is not ideal for Ramsey. But he doesn't see any other choice.
"I would rather not (run him back) but the risk of not getting to the Derby and having to sit on the sidelines ... the reward is better than the risk," Ramsey said. "Also, one of the things I've got on my bucket list is to win the Blue Grass Stakes. That's an accomplishment in of itself, especially on my home field."