Over the next couple of weeks, The Racing Biz will celebrate the holiday season by sharing a few of our (and your) favorite pictures, articles, and videos from 2013.  Our folks have been on the spot for many of the most important racing days of the mid-Atlantic season and have come up with compelling words and images to tell the tales they’ve heard and seen.  We hope you’ll enjoy them…

The irrepressible Ken Ramsey, who seemed to be standing in the winner’s circle after just about every important race this year, has a rather well known back story: his wife Sarah suffered a stroke in 2007, and her road back has been long and challenging.  What most of us didn’t know was the role that racing doyenne Marylou Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson played in Sarah’s recovery.  His gratitude, however, became clear when he named a talented juvenile filly Thank You Marylou.  The horse won at first asking, in the Tippett Stakes at Colonial Downs, and then ran second in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga.

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by Nick Hahn

In racing, we send our horses off and root for them to come home first.

For Ken and Sarah Ramsey, one filly of theirs may deliver them home in a journey more freighted with meaning than just a race.

Thank You Marylou, up close and personal.  Photo by Nick Hahn.

Thank You Marylou, up close and personal. Photo by Nick Hahn.

That’s because their juvenile filly Thank You Marylou, is more than a horse.  She’s a message.

The Ramseys’ relationship with the horse’s namesake, prominent horsewoman and socialite Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, began, unsurprisingly, at Saratoga.  After the Ramseys’ Roses in May won the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in 2004, the Ramseys met Marylou Whitney in the winner’s circle and subsequently attended the traditional post-race party that the “Queen of Saratoga” hosted.

Acquaintances become friends a year later.  Following a Gulfstream stakes victory, an ebullient Ramsey was surprised to see Hendrickson and Whitney, one of whose horses Ramsey’s had just defeated, waiting outside the winner’s circle to offer congratulations.

It made Ramsey question himself on whether he could act the same after a loss. “Would I have shown the same sportsmanship?” wondered Ramsey. “They had nothing to gain. They’re just nice people.”

How nice soon became clear.

In February 2007, Sarah Ramsey suffered a stroke while in Florida — almost exactly a year after Whitney had suffered one.  Ramsey, who knew little about strokes, turned to Whitney’s husband John Hendrickson for advice.

Hendrickson and Whitney, who had met each other during her trip to Alaska as part of a quest to win the Iditarod, did more than provide advice; they flew Whitney’s doctor from California to Florida to see Sarah.

“They [Whitney and Hendrickson] very well may have saved my wife’s life,” said Ramsey in all seriousness. “Sarah was in a coma with her mouth and eyes open. Doctors gave her about a 40% of surviving.”

[pullquote]They very well may have saved my wife’s life,” said Ramsey[/pullquote]

Of course, she did survive and later was relocated to Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington, as Marylou had been when recovering from her ordeal. Whitney, in town for the dedication of the hospital’s Stroke Recovery Center in her and Hendrickson’s names, stopped in to visit Sarah.

“She didn’t have to visit, but she did,” Ramsey said.

This past May, on Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, Ken and Marylou met up in the Director’s Room after Ramsey’s Stephanie’s Kitten won the Distaff Turf Mile.

Ramsey had something to tell his friend, and he told her the best way he knew how: through horses.  He’d named a talented filly by Birdstone — the Whitney-owned horse best known for thwarting Smarty Jones’s 2004 Triple Crown dreams — “Thank You Marylou”.

“You don’t name a bad horse after a celebrity like Ms. Whitney,” instructed Ramsey, who had been waiting on the clearance of trainer Michael Maker before finalizing the name choice.

As the summer warmed up, Ramsey concluded that running the Virginia-bred Thank You Marylou, who is out of the Menifee mare Menifeeque and was bred by Charlottesville residents Mr. and Mrs. C.W. McNeely, III, in the $75,000 Tippett Stakes at Colonial would be a good prelude for Saratoga.  He figured that she would have to be good enough to win at Colonial Downs if she hoped to win at the Spa.

The Tippett would be part a busy day for Ramsey, with a long list of Kitten’s Joy interests at Colonial Downs and across the country in addition to Thank You Marylou’s debut.

In the Tippett Stakes, jockey Alan Garcia slalomed past the field at the top of the stretch and delivered Thank You Marylou home by nearly four lengths. While Ramsey exulted at Colonial, Whitney and Hendrickson watched the race on TV.

Ken Ramsey, center, and his grandson Nolan go over race strategy with riders Joel Rosario and Shaun Bridgmohan before the Virginia Derby.  Photo by Nick Hahn.

Ken Ramsey, center, and his grandson Nolan go over race strategy with riders Joel Rosario and Shaun Bridgmohan before the Virginia Derby. Photo by Nick Hahn.

“Bigger thrill out of that than winning a Grade I,” Hendrickson told Ramsey of Whitney’s response to the Tippett triumph.

Whitney has also expressed interest in a Kitten’s Joy season for one of her best mares. Ramsey, insistent on waiving the stud fee, hopes to name the foal “Free Kitten.”

A two-year old filly may not be Ramsey’s only possession named after the 2004 Belmont Stakes winner.  A standing frame that Whitney had used during her recovery from stroke is now being used by Sarah Ramsey. Whitney had named the frame the “Birdcage.”

Six years on, Sarah Ramsey’s rehabilitation continues, and Ken Ramsey hopes that she might make the trip to Saratoga this summer.

In the meantime, Ramsey intends to keep Garcia aboard Thank You Marylou for her next start in the Adirondack Stakes August 8th at Saratoga.  Though Garcia is not one of Ramsey’s primary riders, Ramsey was impressed by Garcia’s Colonial performance as both friend and foe.  A little more than an hour after getting the money aboard Ramsey’s filly, Garcia delivered once again — but this time aboard War Dancer, who just held off Ramsey’s Charming Kitten.

“Winning at 6 1/2 furlongs won’t be easy,” acknowledged Ramsey about the Adirondack.

But if his Birdstone filly can find a way to win, she’ll deliver Ramsey home in an emotional way.  Marylou Whitney will present the trophy to the Adirondack winner, and Ken Ramsey would like nothing more than to say “Thank you, Marylou,“ once again.

He needn’t sweat it. Safe to say it’s already been said.