How Leading Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey Play the Claiming Game

by Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

In a couple of weeks most horse players taking in the Keeneland meeting will think of August 17, 2013 when they hear the name Ramsey. That was the day that thoroughbred owners and breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey stood high above the world of thoroughbred racing. It was the day they won three Grade 1 races in about one hour. They did this at two of the top venues in racing, Arlington Park and Saratoga Race Course. The Ramseys won the Secretariat Stakes and the Arlington Million in Chicago and the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. Many people were eye witnesses to the feat at those tracks, from all the simulcast parlors and OTB locations in the country and all of those that play the game at home with ADW. But there were more eyes watching as millions of television viewers saw the incredible feat without changing the channel.

Keeneland painter photo by Richard J. Nilsen


As we move into the Keeneland meeting many will think of the Ramseys as only “big race” people. That, of course, is not true. Anyone waiting for the Ramseys to make an appearance only in the big Keeneland stakes races will miss a ton of action. At the 2013 spring Keeneland meeting, the Ramseys smashed an old record for wins by an owner. And one of the trainers they use (several trainers have the privilege of training for the Kentucky couple) broke the win record for trainers primarily with Ramsey horses. The trainer is Mike Maker.

In the last seven (7) Keeneland meetings Mike Maker leads all trainers with 62 wins. The closest thing to Maker is Ken McPeek with 56 wins and Wesley Ward with 53 wins. The special note on Ward is that 15 of his wins came with debut two year old runners. Ward does some training for the Ramseys and even though he is king of the first time baby starters, Ward has only one (1) victory for the Ramseys in this category. The majority of Ward’s wins for the Ramseys came with horses that shipped in from Florida for the spring meetings.

To show Maker’s strength at Keeneland just look at the mere mortals on the list and the number of victories they have since the beginning of the Spring meeting in 2010.

Mike Maker – 62

Ken McPeek – 56

Wesley Ward – 53

Todd Pletcher – 38

Graham Motion – 36

Bill Mott – 24

Wayne Catalano – 28

Rusty Arnold – 27

The Maker/Ramsey runners that win at Keeneland did not win the race at Saratoga from which they were claimed.

Other training notes related to the Ramseys. Chad Brown, who trained the Ramsey’s Arlington Million and Sword Dancer winners has 14 wins at Keeneland in the same period and two (2) of those have been with Ramsey horses. Wayne Catalano has been to the winner’s circle with 5 Ramsey horses in the same time frame.

But the real man for the Ramseys at Keeneland is Mike Maker. Of Maker’s 62 wins in the time period 32 were Ramsey owned runners, a little more than half. Overall, about 70% of Ramsey winners at Keeneland in the last seven meetings were trained by Mike Maker.

Let’s face it. The Ramsey stable is a big, big name in the business and they do more than just own horses. They are a force in the breeding business. So when one trainer can claim so much of their action at two of the most prestigious race meetings in North America, it signals a great vote of confidence.

When examining Maker wins for the Ramseys at the fall meet, one will notice several horses that won at Keeneland were winners first time after being claimed at Saratoga. The pattern line reads: L-1, C-1, which is first time layoff, first time claim. The timing for such makes perfect sense. The Ramseys claim a horse at Saratoga and it gets a rest of at least 45 days and the benefit of Maker’s training, then they show up at Keeneland and whip the competition. When examining a look at the spring meetings, one will see the same thing for Maker/Ramsey horses except they were coming from either the Fairgrounds or Gulfstream. But the most unlikely thing almost always appeared in the pattern line and that was the words class drop.

Most experienced horseplayers I know get a cold chill when they see a horse coming off a claim and dropping in class. It is normally a bad sign. But what the Maker/Ramsey combo have done is to claim horses at Saratoga and give them a very subtle drop in class; such as a claim for $20,000 and then run them at Keeneland for $16,000, or, claim for $25,000 and run for $20,000. Keeneland’s purses are good and if you have plenty of reasons to believe that you made a good buy, then you can take a drop, collect good purse money with a win and come out fairly good even if someone claims the horse. With Keeneland’s purses a second place finish can often make up the difference between the claiming prices if you lose the horse at the box. The key to remember is that the Maker/Ramsey machine play this game very well. It is advisable to pay particular attention if they get a horse that can fit into a lower price starter allowance race.

So, where does that leave us today with the upcoming Keeneland fall meeting? It is hard to tell how many horses Maker will train for the Ramseys. Maker has recorded a majority of his wins in the spring meetings at Keeneland. But there is another clue regarding this successful combo and I believe it sends a signal of what we may see at Keeneland in October, and we have already seen at Churchill Downs.

At Saratoga this summer the Ramseys claimed 32 horses. It turned out that the claim box sold 261 horses during the Saratoga meeting and the Ramseys were the biggest buyer and accounted for 12.2% of the claims. On all of the claims Mike Maker was listed as the trainer. Every single one. Of course the Ramseys could dump some runners off with other trainers at other locations but it is hard to imagine that they were not loading the guns for Keeneland, and even the new Fall meeting at Churchill Downs. In fact, the combo has already struck with a first time claim from Saratoga at the new September meeting in Louisville.

On September 6, 2013, the first day of the new fall meeting in Louisville, the combo sent out Wild Target in a $30,000 claiming race. The horse was claimed from Eddie Kenneally at Saratoga for $35,000. Wild Target easily whipped the field even after breaking slow. The winner’s share of the race paid $15, 420. The horse was not claimed, but if it had been, the Ramseys would still make a profit.

Here is another view of the Ramsey’s claims at Saratoga:

  1. Of the 32 horses claimed 22 are male and 10 are female. Of the males 16 are geldings, which mean they were claimed to run and make money as soon as possible since they have no breeding value.
  2. Only three (3) horses were claimed for $50,000 or more. Eight (8) were claimed for $35,000, nine (9) were claimed for $25,000, and twelve (12) were claimed for $20,000. The higher priced horses may wind up in allowance or low level stakes competition, and if they are Kentucky breds they can actually be eligible for their share of additional purse money (usually from $7,000-$8,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.
  3. Six (6) horses that were claimed won the race from which they were claimed. Fourteen (14) finished in the money in the race from which they were claimed.
  4. The Maker/Ramsey combo raided some good trainers with multiple claims in a short period of time, such as: Linda Rice (3 claims in 4 days), Rusty Arnold (2 claims in 4 days), Steve Asmussen (2 claims in 2 days) and Jason Servis (2 claims in 4 days).

In the past Maker has taken Ramsey’s Saratoga claims and usually worked them at Churchill’s training track which is listed as Cdt before they run at Keeneland. Also, in the past no Maker/Ramsey runner claimed at Saratoga has won at Saratoga and then won at first asking at Keeneland. The Maker/Ramsey runners that win at Keeneland did not win the race at Saratoga from which they were claimed.

Be sure you look for the names of Maker and Ramsey at the Keeneland meeting. Don’t just think you only see them on TV with big named expensive horses. They are right there with the claimers like everybody else. And, they are very good at the game.


Editor’s Note: The 2013 fall meet edition of Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns is due out soon.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.


  1. This is the best racing article I’ve read in some time…..great analysis! Thanks!

  2. Paul MacDougall says

    I enjoyed this article very much. I am working on a fictional story with a claiming race in part of it. This really explains it well, many thanks

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