9:15 p.m. CDT, August 17, 2013
“Yes! No! Yes! No! Yes! Nooooo!”
Like sub-titles in a foreign movie, these words alternately kept flashing across the mind’s eye of Real Solution’s owner-breeder Ken Ramsey as his horse and The Apache engaged in back-and-forth fight to the finish-line in Saturday’s Arlington Million.
“I thought we lost the race,” Ramsey said afterward, the demoralizing vision of The Apache thrusting his head in front at the wire still dancing in his head.
Then, within a minute, the inquiry sign began flashing: Real Solution’s jockey, Alan Garcia, had claimed foul against The Apache, alleging interference in the closing strides.
As Ramsey watched the head-on replay his emotions suddenly flip-flopped and he said to himself: “Yes … maybe!” There was a reason that Real Solution hung for an instant just when it appeared he was going to gain command in the final 100 yards of the stretch duel — The Apache repeatedly had made contact with Real Solution.
With fingers crossed, Ramsey awaited the stewards’ ruling. After six minutes, the verdict came.
In the third disqualification in the Million’s 31-year history Real Solution was declared the winner and The Apache was dropped to second.
In Ramsey’s words: “We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.”
Garcia thought it would have been a convincing triumph if it hadn’t been for the foul.
“I had plenty of horse to go by and the other horse bumped us more than four times and made me lose my momentum,” Garcia said. “If that hadn’t happened we might have won by two or three lengths.”
Ramsey saw the victory for the son of his pride and joy, Kitten’s Joy, as vindication. In the 2005 Million, Kitten’s Joy had finished second to the Irish invader Powerscourt and came out of the race with a career-ending knee injury.
In the intervening years, Kitten’s Joy has become one of the world’s greatest stallions. Not only did he sire Real Solution, he also is the father of Admiral Kitten, who two races earlier won the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat, the same race he captured at Arlington in 2004.
Most of the sons and daughters of Kitten’s Joy have Kitten or Kitten’s in their name.
But, as Ramsey, said: “His name is Real Solution but a Kitten by any other name is still a Kitten.”
While Real Solution and The Apache were engaged in their all-out battle, finishing up the track in sixth was Little Mike, who was trying to become the first back-to-back winner in Million history.
Ironically, Little Mike, who was bred and is owned by Carlo Vaccarezza, is trained by Dale Romans, who also is employed by Ramsey and was the trainer of Kitten’s Joy.
“Kitten’s Joy is like part of the family,” Romans said. “If I can’t win a race I want one of his (offspring) to win.”
As he did last year, Little Mike took an immediate lead and he still had his head in front with a quarter-mile to run in the 11/4-mile race.
But, as Romans explained, “The pace scenario was different. They came at him this year. Last year they’d leave us alone. Now, they know he’s good.”
Chad Brown trains Real Solution but when the horse began his career Ramsey had him in Italy with trainer John Luca Biancone. He won his first three races there decisively before finishing sixth as the 2-5 favorite in the Group II Derby Italiano.
“It turned out he had a lung infection in the Derby,” Ramsey said. “That’s why we brought him to this country. Here we can use Lasix (a medication for horses who have respiratory infections); in Europe it’s banned.”
While Real Solution is now a permanent resident of the U.S., The Apache is a horse of the world. The disqualified winner began his career in his native South Africa, spent the winter and early spring in Dubai and made his last start in England.
Despite the judges’ verdict, jockey, Christophe Soumillon didn’t regard The Apache as second best in the grass race he ran in 2:00.99.
“We were the better horse but he got scared by the (video) screen and shifted out,” Soumillon said. “My horse was on the lead and got a little unbalanced. The screen scared him but we were the best horse.”
Jamie Spencer, who rode third place Side Glance in the 13-horse race, disagreed.
“I had a beautiful run until the straight and then they played bumper pool,” Spencer said. “I was following Little Mike and then the (disqualified) winner chopped him off so I lost my momentum.”