In keeping with the twists and turns of the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail this spring, Saturday's $200,000 Lexington S. (G3) at Keeneland served up another upset, as Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred DERBY KITTEN (Kitten's Joy) surged past the entire field to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. Making his first start on a synthetic surface, the turf colt produced a strong stretch kick for Julien Leparoux and returned $20.40, $6.60 and $3.60 at odds of 9-1.
The Lexington doesn't figure to assist Derby Kitten's chances to live up to his optimistic name. Despite his impressive performance, the Lexington marked his graded debut, so his winner's check of $120,000 is his sum total of graded earnings. Barring a flurry of last-minute defections, the Mike Maker trainee has little chance of making it into the 20-horse Derby field.
Nor will the Lexington offer much more help to Silver Medallion (Badge of Silver), who was aiming to book his spot in the Kentucky Derby. The El Camino Real Derby (G3) winner, and Santa Anita Derby (G1) fourth, ranked 24th on the graded earnings list going into the weekend's races, with $184,334 to his credit, and hoped to pad his bankroll with a top effort here. But Silver Medallion didn't help his cause after all, winding up fourth as the 6-5 favorite, and pocketing only $10,000.
A surprise was in store right from the start of the race. Casper's Touch (Touch Gold), who had never before been on the lead in his career, was hustled to the front, and eagerly set fractions of :23 4/5 and :47. Silver Medallion chased on the inside, with Prime Cut (Bernstein) lapped onto him. Taptowne (Tapit) improved his position nearing the far turn, and actually put his head in front of Prime Cut and Casper's Touch through six furlongs in 1:12.
Taptowne's bid soon fizzled, though, and Casper's Touch regained the lead entering the stretch. Prime Cut was a stubborn challenger, and continued to press Casper's Touch in the drive, while Silver Medallion was failing to pick up. Instead, the red and white Ramsey silks were running into the frame, with Derby Kitten suddenly erupting from the pack. Barreling past the dueling Prime Cut and Casper's Touch, he drew off to finish 1 1/16 Polytrack miles in 1:42.
"We circled the field," Leparoux said, "but we saved ground on the second turn. We had a good trip. I had a lot of horse, and I knew I was going to get there."
"He's been his own worst enemy," Maker said of his pupil. "Glad to see he's maturing."
Prime Cut wore down Casper's Touch by a half-length for second. Silver Medallion checked in another 2 3/4 lengths back in fourth, and Hurricane Lake (Friends Lake) and Taptowne completed the strung-out field.
"I had a perfect trip right behind the two speed horses," jockey Javier Castellano said of his view aboard Silver Medallion. "The goal today was to get him to relax and he did. I thought things were setting up beautifully, but when I asked him he just didn't fire."
Derby Kitten, who broke his maiden for a $75,000 claiming price at Gulfstream Park on January 5, improved his record to 9-2-3-1 and more than tripled his career earnings to $172,333. He had raced predominantly on turf, other than flopping in an off-the-turf maiden at Belmont last fall, won by To Honor and Serve (Bernardini). Derby Kitten had faced solid company in his maidens on the turf, and he managed to beat eventual Blue Grass S. (G1) winner Brilliant Speed (Dynaformer) when runner-up in one of them.
After his confidence-building maiden win over claiming rivals, he appeared to turn the corner. Derby Kitten finished second in a February 5 handicap event at Tampa Bay Downs, defeating next-out Transylvania S. (G3) fourth Lil Bit O'Fun (Langfuhr), and flashed home late for second to the smart Longhunter (GB) (Halling) in the April 2 Alligator Alley S. in his black-type bow.
The Kentucky-bred is the second foal from the winning Blush (Menifee), who has been bred exclusively to Kitten's Joy. Derby Kitten is a full brother to stakes winner William's Kitten, runner-up in the 2009 Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) and third in the 2010 Holy Bull S. (G3); a juvenile colt, yearling filly and newborn filly, all yet to be named. Derby Kitten's third dam is Grade 3 heroine Cherry Jubilee (Coastal), the dam of Grade 3 queen Traverse City (Halo), and she hails from the family of Travers S. (G1) victor Willow Hour (Bold Hour).
Maker hasn't decided on Derby Kitten's next start.
"I'll talk to Mr. Ramsey," the trainer said. "This was the day we were pointed toward."