When Gulfstream Park added the Kitten's Joy to its stakes lineup seven years ago, Ken and Sarah Ramsey were fitting first winners of the race named for their multi-millionaire homebred grass champion and six-time leading turf sire.
The $100,000 Kitten's Joy for newly turned 3-year-olds sprinting 7 ½ furlongs on the grass returns to Gulfstream Saturday for the first time as a Grade 3 race, and the Ramseys have the opportunity to repeat history with Mike Maker-trained Bless the Kitten.
Bless the Kitten is a bay son of Kitten's Joy bred and owned by the Ramseys coming off a gutsy head victory going 1 1/16 miles in a Nov. 10 maiden special weight over the Churchill Downs turf. Bless the Kitten also came from off the pace in his one-mile debut Oct. 6 at Keeneland, finishing fourth.
“Bless the Kitten is a pretty nice horse,” Ken Ramsey said. “He's going to have to step up a little bit to make an impact in the race now that it's a Grade 3 because the grading will attract a few more good horses. We'll see how it all plays out.”
Maker is one of Ramsey's primary trainers but is looking for his first Kitten's Joy victory. Ramsey won the inaugural 2013 edition with Charming Kitten, trained by Todd Pletcher, and won again in 2017 with Kitten's Cat, from the barn of trainer Joe Sharp.
“Upgrading the race, that shows the quality of horses that's been put in it,” Ramsey said. “I know the graded-stakes committee goes through those things with a fine-tooth comb so … it's good to see that one in there.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., the reigning Eclipse Award winner who looms as the favorite to pick up his second straight trophy during the Jan. 23 ceremony at Gulfstream, rides for the first time from Post 4 of nine at 118 pounds.
Isabelle de Tomaso's homebred Irish Mias will be making his fourth straight stakes start as he cuts back to a sprint for the first time since August in the Kitten's Joy. The chestnut Sky Mesa colt, trained by Graham Motion, was a head winner of the Laurel Futurity going 1 1/16 miles Sept. 21 at Laurel Park in his stakes debut.
Irish Mias raced at one mile in each of his past two starts, running fourth in the Awad Stakes Oct. 26 at Belmont Park and second to undefeated Sole Volante in the Pulpit Stakes Nov. 30 at Gulfstream. Sole Volante is making his dirt debut in Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man.
“I think he hasn't done much wrong really,” Motion said. “I'm happy with how he's done. He's been very consistent. I thought he ran very well at Gulfstream last time. The only thing that hurts him is that he has a tendency to break a step slow. If he could overcome that, I think it would really help him. He just puts himself in a tough spot because he breaks a step slow. It would be nice if he could kind of get over it.”
Rajiv Maragh, aboard in the Pulpit, gets the return call from Post 2 on Irish Mias, owner of one win, three seconds and $176,000 in purse earnings from five starts. He is the 123-pound topweight in the Kitten's Joy.
“I don't think he has to come from out of it; I think it's more the fact that he's broken slowly each time,” Motion said. “I think he's a two-turn horse. I don't know how far he's going to want to go, to be honest, but I think two turns is what he'll prefer. It's going to be a step up. I'm sure this is going to be a much more competitive group this weekend.”
Matt Schera's Island Commish takes a two-race win streak into the Kitten's Joy, his sixth career start and second in stakes company. Off a 9 ½-length romp in an off-the-turf maiden claimer Aug. 3, the Commissioner colt was third in the 7 ½-furlong Proud Man behind multiple stakes winner Graceful Kitten, who would go on to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
“He ran third in that race and he was a little keen the whole way and never really relaxed,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “I think he's a much better horse now than he was then. Even his last two races, I know it wasn't a stakes race, but I think he was a better horse in those races than when he ran first time in the stake.”
Island Commish was favored in each of his last three starts at 2, including back-to-back wins going 7 ½-furlongs over the Gulfstream Park West turf, the most recent coming Nov. 20. Paco Lopez, up in both races, rides back from Post 8.
“He's done well since the race and now we're going to give him the chance to see what kind of quality horse he is. Obviously he's going to have to step up his game but we think he's in good form and he deserves a shot. This will give us an idea where we stand going forward,” Joseph said. “We think he'll definitely go further, also, but it's the same distance. The only thing different is the class, but he's in good form and we're going to try it at a distance we know he's very good at.”
Joseph also entered John Fanelli and Leonard Liberto's Ny Traffic for main track only. Ny Traffic won a maiden special weight Oct. 12 at Parx and has since finished off the board in two subsequent stakes, most recently the six-furlong Notebook Nov. 17 at Aqueduct.
D P Racing, Mrs. Paul Shanahan and Mrs. M.V. Magnier's Yesterdayoncemore is set for her sophomore debut off a brief freshening for trainer Patrick Biancone. The daughter of 2014 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) runner-up No Nay Never has been training for her return since mid-December at Palm Meadows.
After making her first five starts in Ireland, where she was bred, Yesterdayoncemore made her North American debut in the one-mile Juvenile Fillies Turf Sept. 2 at Del Mar, overcoming traffic trouble to win by a length. She returned to be sixth in the Surfer Girl Stakes Oct. 6 at Santa Anita, also at a mile, before getting time off.
“We gave her time to acclimatize, let her relax and enjoy the weather in Florida,” Biancone said. “This is her first race of the year, we hope she goes on from there. She's really, really talented. She's a nice filly.”
Julien Leparoux rides Yesterdayoncemore for the first time from Post 3.
Completing the field are Todd Pletcher-trained stablemates Summer to Remember, a Dec. 11 maiden winner over the Gulfstream turf, and Mystic Lancelot; Get Smokin and King Theo.
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