It is tradition after each graded-stakes race at Keeneland that the trophy presentation takes place on the turf course, weather permitting that is.
Despite the sheets of rain soaking most of the 20,273 in attendance on Saturday, owner Ken Ramsey was bound and determined to make the trek into the grass. And as those who know him will attest, the Nicholasville resident is a hard man to argue with when he gets his mind set on something.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Derby Kitten gave his connections the soggy but jubilant celebration they were looking for when he launched a last-to-first rally in the Grade III, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes to take the 11⁄16-mile test by 11/2 lengths over Prime Cut.
Derby Kitten's triumph capped a run of strong results for the Ramseys on the day. After their 4-year-old colt Dean's Kitten ran second to Exhi in the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes on the undercard, their 3-year-old filly Holiday for Kitten captured the Giant's Causeway Stakes going 51/2 furlongs on the main track one race later.
It's little wonder, then, the ebullient Ken Ramsey didn't care about getting a little damp if it meant he and his family got to make Keeneland's version of the victory lap.
"(Keeneland President) Nick Nicholson drew me a map of how to get to the infield since I never get to go over there," Ramsey said with a laugh. "This horse had run second in two straight stakes races, so he's on the improve. We thought we had a shot in here."
With 6-5 favorite Silver Medallion as the only graded-stakes winner heading into the race, the Lexington was certainly an opportunity for some 3-year-old to use the race as a springboard for a bigger outing.
Though slightly built, Derby Kitten started to look a lot more imposing as the 9-1 shot began advancing on the second turn after Casper's Touch had run an opening half-mile in :47.17.
"We circled the field, but we saved ground on the second turn," jockey Julien Leparoux said. "I had a lot of horse, and I knew I was going to get there."
After angling out three-wide in the stretch, Derby Kitten drove strong to the wire to earn his second win in nine career starts, finishing in 1:42.03.
Prime Cut held on for second after prompting the early pace with Casper's Touch fading to third.
"He still doesn't know what he's doing," said Ken McPeek, trainer of Casper's Touch. "He either tries to do too much early, or he fights with the jockey when you try and take him back."
Silver Medallion, the only horse in the field with a chance at picking up enough graded-stakes earnings to make the 20-horse cutoff for the Kentucky Derby field, came home fourth.
Derby Kitten's late-running style is emblematic of his development during his career. The son of Kitten's Joy lost his first five starts — finishing off the board in three of them — before breaking his maiden going 71/2 furlongs on the turf at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 5.
"He's been his own worst enemy. Glad to see he's maturing," trainer Mike Maker said.
The bay colt came into the Lexington off a runner-up effort in the Alligator Alley Stakes, also on the turf at Gulfstream, on April 2. Derby Kitten was off the board in his only try on dirt, but Ken Ramsey isn't ruling out a shot at the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"We can't get to the Kentucky Derby with him, but who knows? The Preakness Stakes could be on our agenda," Ramsey said. "I'm not ruling anything out. All options are open."