by Carly Silver
Editor's note: this is the third in a series of feature articles on young people in racing who have followed in their parents' career-paths in the industry.
As the champion turf male of 2004, Kitten's Joy helped put his owner/breeders, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, on the map. As the leading general sire of 2013 and a perennially successful turf stallion, the son of El Prado (Ire) has provided the Ramseys with outstanding progeny. That success runs parallel to the next generation of Ramseys: Ken and Sarah's grandson, Nolan, who's carving out his own sphere of influence as an assistant to leading trainer Mike Maker.
Twenty-year-old Nolan cut his teeth at Ramsey Farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky.
“During the summers, when I wasn't in school, I was working on my grandfather's farm, working on the mare-foal crew. Basically, as soon as I was big enough to handle a horse, I was out there working with them,” Ramsey recalled.
The highlight of each summer was traveling to Saratoga Springs and attending the races with his grandfather Ken, who taught him how to read the Daily Racing Form. While at the Spa, Nolan got to know longtime Ramsey trainer Maker. The Ramseys had runners with D. Wayne Lukas when Maker worked as that Hall of Fame trainer's assistant, and they supported the young conditioner when he went out on his own.
Sensing a burgeoning horseman, Maker offered a 14-year-old Ramsey a job walking hots at Saratoga. The horse-crazy teen proved a deft hand around the barn and, once he'd graduated from high school, returned to his native Kentucky to attend the University of Louisville's equine industry program.
“I had no doubt in my mind I wanted to do something with horses; it was just trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do,” Ramsey enthused. “But when I started working for Mike, I immediately loved training. I love horses in general and I'd be content doing anything with them, but I really found my niche on the backstretch.”
After finishing his first year of school, Ramsey decided to leave college to focus on his promising training career.
“I decided that I was going to stick with the horses full time. That didn't go over too well,” Ramsey chuckled. “I knew I was making the right decision, but family and friends–a lot of people who didn't understand the horse racing–thought that I was making a mistake. And I can tell you right now that I've learned more working in the barn with Mike than I did–than I think I would have–in four years of college at the University of Louisville, as far as the horses are concerned.”
The choice was a practical one. Ramsey noted this was an opportune time for him to learn.
“I'm young; I can travel, I can go do things right now while I don't have a family or any stipulations that keep me required to be in one place,” he explained. “So I valued my next four years. I thought [they] would be better used on the track and learning hands on from Mike and his other assistants…than it would be sitting in a classroom learning in a book.”
Maker supported his young employee, who said, “I think, him being a father and having kids and going through this himself, I think that part of him wanted to tell me to go to school and finish–but also he'd never admit it–but I think he was kind of excited to see me pursue my career in horses.”
Ramsey's responsibilities range from the day-to-day of running a shedrow to vanning top runners across country lines. One such example is Sir Dudley Digges (Gio Ponti). A late bloomer, the Ramsey-owned Ontario-bred took seven starts to break his maiden, but Maker identified him as a candidate for one race he knew his owners wanted to win: the Queen's Plate. Maker sent Sir Dudley Digges–in Ramsey's care–to Woodbine early to prep him on the Polytrack and run in a prep race. Working daily with the colt and conferring with their boss, Ramsey and another assistant trainer proved instrumental in sending out Sir Dudley Digges to win the Queen's Plate.
In his young career, Ramsey has found his surname a help and a hindrance. Having known Maker for most of his life, he found it was “a pretty easy transition for me, going from being the owner's grandchild to the trainer's assistant.” He has found his professional relationship with his grandparents easy, but he's pushed himself that much harder to prove his qualifications. He said, “But I think here, in the last few years, people have finally started to realize that I wasn't handed the job. I wasn't handed anything. Mike didn't just hire me because I was Ramsey's grandkid. I think that's shown that Mike sent me with horses that don't belong to my grandparents.”
While he loves working for Maker, Ramsey eventually hopes to head out on his own. He observed, “I'd like to train a few for my family, but I'd like to have a large stable and several different owners.”
He enjoys improving horses from the ground up, noting his family's success with former claimers, and has even claimed a few good mares that the Ramseys raced and will breed to Kitten's Joy.
“Actually, my nickname around the barn is Kitten,” he laughed. “I want to say it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a horse, a homebred horse, and be able to watch and grow up watching him run, attending his races, even leading him into the winner's circle, watching him be retired, and then find a second stride as a stallion and really…blossom. And now it's very special–it's really nice–because I get to train a lot of his offspring and be around his horses. I remember him just as a racing fan and part of the family, going to watch him, and now I get to see his offspring perform and be a part of that as well; it's very special. It's not something that happens every day.”