UNITED NATIONS STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 1 | 1 3/8-MILES (TURF)
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Big Blue Kitten burst through on the rail in the $500,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park July 6, becoming the first U.S.-based runner to qualify for the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner Little Mike set the pace and faded to fourth, passed by Teaks North and Hangover Kid.
Big Blue Kitten, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy trained by Chad Brown, benefited from a bold ride by New Jersey ace Joe Bravo to earn his first grade I in the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event. Reserved throughout the early going, he was ahead of only one horse in the field of eight as Little Mike set reasonable early fractions of :23.91, :47.95, and 1:12.43 under Joel Rosario.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and Skyring put pressure on Little Mike past the half-mile marker, but the three-time grade I winner withstood his challenge for a mile in 1:35.91 before weakening. Teaks North rallied between rivals and looked ready to carry on, but the eventual winner had been closing rapidly up the rail approaching the final turn. When Bravo squeezed through a narrow spot at the head of the lane his mount responded, diving clear to win the 1 3/8-mile event by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 2:11.98 on firm turf.
Big Blue Kitten returned $7, $3.40 and $2.80 at 5-1 while Teak's North paid $6.80 and $4.60 with Hangover Kid bringing $8.40 a length back and one length ahead of 8-5 favorite Little Mike. Following the top four came Willcox Inn, Skyring, Harrods Creek, and Russian Greek.
Big Blue Kitten came off a runner-up finish 1 1/4 lengths behind Boisterous in the June 9 Monmouth Stakes to get the job done. Bred in Kentucky by the Ramseys out of the Unaccounted For mare Spent Gold, he improved his record to 9-2-4 from 16 starts good for earnings of $698,530. Previously, his best finish was a victory in the 2011 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
"Another memorable ride from Joe Bravo—that was one for his highlight reel," said Brown. "I had so much confidence in Joe riding this horse. I came down when he ran at Monmouth last out and Joe told me if he knew the horse a little bit more he would have probably won that one. After his last race, Joe really sold me on giving the United Nations some consideration. This horse will run as far as you want."
"It's amazing how much you can learn from one race," Bravo said. "Looking back, we could have won the last one, but I took what I learned there and used it today. This horse was ready to run the whole way around there today. Little Mike came off the rail just a little in the stretch and we were able to get through. This is a good horse."
Trainer Dale Romans said Little Mike ran well in his first start since a disappointing 11th in the March 30 Dubai Duty Free at Meydan. The Spanish Steps gelding was beaten just 3 1/4 lengths for it all.
"I was very proud of his race today," Romans said. "I was really happy to see how willing he was. In Dubai, he never really picked up his feet. Today, you could tell he was back to his old self. This should put him in a good spot for the Arlington Million."
The Aug. 17 Arlington Million, a race Little Mike won in 2012, could also be a consideration for Big Blue Kitten—although Brown said the Sword Dancer on the same day at Saratoga has also crossed his mind.
"I don't know where we'll go next yet, I will speak to Mr. Ramsey about it," the winning trainer remarked. "I'm sure we'll take a look at the Arlington Million, I wouldn't be opposed to going a mile and a half in the Sword Dancer, or cutting back (to 1 1/4 miles) for the Arlington Million. He'll head back to his base at Saratoga tonight and we'll wait and see."