Sarah Ramsey, top thoroughbred breeder and owner, dies at 83

·2 min read

Sarah Ramsey, who along with her husband Ken bred and raced multiple Breeders' Cup champions and won a leading 510 races at Churchill Downs, has died. She was 83.

She died Sunday at her home in Nicholasville, Kentucky, according to Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers, who was informed by Ken Ramsey. No cause of death was provided.

“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Sarah Kathern Ramsey,” Churchill Downs president Mike Anderson said Monday night. “Our hearts are with Ken and his entire family during this very difficult time. She lived a wonderful life, and we’ll miss her smiling face in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle.”

Ramsey had a major stroke in 2007, which affected her speech and paralyzed her right side. She used a wheelchair to attend the races.

The couple built their fortune through investments in radio and cellphones. They owned cellphone tower businesses in five states, including Kentucky, one of which they sold for $39 million in 1994 and used the money to buy their 1,200-acre farm.

Their best-known horse was Kitten's Joy, who had nine wins in 14 career starts and earnings of $2 million. The couple used “Kitten” for many of their homebred horses, which was Sarah's nickname given to her by Ken when they were dating in 1954.

They also named their horses after family members, and honored the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel with a horse named Bobby's Kitten and fellow breeder and owner Marylou Whitney with a horse named Thank You Marylou.

Perry Martin, who co-owned 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, poked fun at the Ramseys by naming a filly Not a Kitten.

The couple had 2,241 winners and career purse earnings of over $98 million, according to Equibase. They won four Eclipse Awards as for outstanding owners and two for outstanding breeders, and led North America owners by purse earnings in 2013 and 2014.

The couple were frequent participants in the Breeders' Cup, starting 44 horses in the world championships. They won four times, most recently in 2015 with Stephanie's Kitten in the Filly & Mare Turf.

Although the Ramseys were the leading owner a record 32 times at Churchill Downs, their success didn't translate to the Kentucky Derby, where they were 0 for 7. Their best finish was in 2003 when Ten Cents A Shine was eighth.

The couple's only starter in the Belmont Stakes was in 2005, when Nolan's Cat finished third.

Born Artemus, Kentucky, she was the daughter of a coal miner. She graduated from Union College and married Ken in 1958. She helped him manage their various enterprises.

Ramsey is survived by Ken and their children Kelly, Jeff, Jill and Scott.

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Beth Harris, The Associated Press

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