Although well-known owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have been dreaming of a Kentucky Derby win for years, their 2014 contender We Miss Artie was in the minority of foals whose breeders didn't have visions of roses dancing in their heads at birth.
The colt by Artie Schiller out of Fusaichi Pegasus mare Athena's Gift was bred by Canadian Richard Lister. Lister bought his first horse in the 1970s—a filly from Windfields Farm who made a few starts and hooked him into the sport. Since then, he has primarily been a commercial breeder, dividing his stock between Ontario and Kentucky.
Lister said in more that in more than 30 years, We Miss Artie, who now has 60 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, is undoubtedly the best horse he has produced. Lister's previous credits include a number of ungraded stakes winners Touchnow, Danceroftherealm, and graded stakes-placed Initforreal.
A Kentucky Derby win was never in the picture for Lister.
“The Derby was so far beyond me that it was always for the Queen's Plate,” he said.
Now, one of his stock has a shot at both.
Lister was always fond of We Miss Artie's dam, a mare who he said never got to reveal her true potential on the track due to injury.
“She was a phenomenal turf horse, and she never got to show how good she was,” he said. “I knew (Athena's Gift) was going to be a good one, because the exercise rider got off the horse for the first time and said to the trainer ‘This is the best horse I've been on.'
“I just hope that Artie can carry it on … I hope he can perform in the Derby but I know he can perform in the Queen's Plate.”
Still, as We Miss Artie grew into a handsome yearling at nearby Grand View Farm, Ontario breeding destabilized after the government pulled slots funding from the racing industry. Lister, like many other breeders, saw the writing on the wall and dispersed most of his stock in the intervening years, including that promising son of Athena's Gift, as well as the mare herself.
We Miss Artie was consigned to the 2012 Keeneland September sale by Bernard McCormack's Cara Bloodstock. McCormack, who is based in Ontario, launched the company in 2008 and was voted Canada's leading consignor just four years later. He sells much of his stock in Canada and brings small, boutique-type consignments down to Kentucky—an assignment that became tough as uncertainty in Ontario's industry grew. McCormack always kept faith that good horses would rise to the top, and in We Miss Artie's case he was proved correct.
The future Spiral Stakes winner was housed under Cara's black and orange banners as Hip 3212 and despite being catalogued late in the sale, McCormack said he attracted plenty of attention.
“He was a little unfurnished as a yearling,” said McCormack. “He had the frame, and great length to him. He just looked as a yearling like he would be a nice two-turn horse as he went along.
“He was very sensible. That was the thing I really liked about him, was his mind. They say sometimes that the Fusaichi Pegasus [line] can be a little hot, but he wasn't that way.”
Trainer Mark Casse, a frequent shopper of Cara's consignments, took such a shine to the horse that he stopped by to see him hours before hopping a plane back to Canada and bid over the phone when the colt went through the ring. In the end though, it was the Ramseys who landed We Miss Artie for $90,000.
Lister and McCormack kept tabs on the horse's progress as he broke his maiden and followed that up with a win in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity. The Dixiana victory gave Cara Bloodstock its first Grade 1-winning graduate and Lister his first graded stakes win as a breeder.
Rather than wistfully viewing him as “the one that got away,” Lister said he's thrilled to watch We Miss Artie on the Kentucky Derby trail—and even more thrilled that he's currently the top choice for the Queen's Plate in early wagering pools.
“It is as exciting as owning them,” he said. “I get a tremendous thrill. I'll go anywhere to watch Artie run. I'm delighted he's in the hands that he's in, because the Ramseys are wonderful people and they'll give him every chance in the world.”
“This is why you get up at 5 a.m. all the year round,” said McCormack, who noted critics' concerns about the horse's interest in running on dirt. Although his dirt form might be a question mark, McCormack said the 10 furlong distance in the Derby will be no problem.
“He's undefeated in Kentucky, so you can dream, right?”
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