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Top Striker looking to use home course to his advantage

Posted: March 27, 2014 12:04 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

CAMDEN RESIDENTS ARCH KINGSLEY and Sue Sensor are hoping that Top Striker can repeat Sunshine Number’s 2011 feat in winning Saturday’s $50,000 Carolina Cup.

Had it been the 1980s and if it were Wall Street, it would have been considered insider trading.
But this deal came from the race course, on the turf to be exact, rather than inside some New York City skyscraper.
Confused? Well, let’s sort this entire episode out for you.
The first time that trainer Michael Matz --- he of Barbaro fame --- placed Top Striker into a claiming race at Gulfstream Park in December of 2012, the 3-year-old finish11th of 12 runners in a mile race on the turf course. Taking a chance again, Matz entered the Van Nistelrooy gelding in a $30,700 claimer at Gulfstream on Jan. 10, 2013. This time, Top Strike carried Joe Rocco Jr. to victory. A short while  later, Camden-based trainer Arch Kingsley claimed Top Striker for $30,000 for Camden owner, Sue Sensor.
Kingsley’s decision did not come on a lark or, because the horse won in South Florida. Rather, he had some inside scoop courtesy of Willie McCarthy, who rides many of Kingsley’s steeplechasers. McCarthy galloped horses for Matz, including Top Striker. The native of Ireland told Kingsley he thought the horse might make a smooth transition to jumping.
That was enough to sell Kingsley who then sold Sensor on the idea. Shortly thereafter, Top Striker took up residence in Kingsley’s barn located beside the Springdale Race Course schooling course.
“Willie McCarthy had worked with him at Michael Matz’s and he knew about him and tipped me off to the horse,” Kingsley said taking the tack off one of his other horses. “All the credit goes to Willie. He picked him out and we bought him, sight unseen, on his recommendation that he might make a nice hurdler.”
Top Striker was hardly a dud on the flat. Originally trained by former Camden resident Rodney Jenkins, Top Striker won its first two starts in the summer of 2012 at Colonial Downs and then at Delaware Park. By October of that year, Golden gave Top Striker to Matz and the grandson of 1985 Male Turf Eclipse winner Cozzene finished fourth, fifth and 11th before returning to the winners’ circle more than 14 months ago at Gulfstream.
Kingsley turned Top Striker into a hurdler and last June, he put McCarthy on the horse for its debut over fences in a 2 1/6-mile maiden special at Parx Racing in which the pair came home sixth in a field of nine. Top Striker carried the field to the eighth jump before stopping and being eased as McCarthy sensed there was something not quite right with his mount.
Kingsley and a veterinarian soon discovered the reason for Top Striker’s abrupt stop in his debut over jumps.
“In his first start,” Kingsley said, “we had a wind problem that we had an issue with so, we’ll treat that as a learning experience. We worked on it and he seems better for it.”
By fall, Top Striker was given a clean bill of health and he would finish second behind Royal Bench in a $15,000 maiden hurdle at the Charleston Cup Races on Nov. 10. With the Colonial Cup being pushed back an extra week to Nov. 23 in Camden, it gave Kingsley time to rest Top Striker before sending him out for a run in that day’s first race, the $25,000 Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle.
With McCarthy, again in the saddle, Top Striker bided his time in mid-pack before making a bold move to the front and romping to a 7 ½-length victory in the 2/18-mile chase.
“He came back here and put it all together and really looked strong against a field of maidens last fall,” Kingsley said of Top Striker’s win on his new home course.
“I saw a horse that is getting a pretty good understanding of what we’re asking him to do and like he trains at home, he showed in the afternoon that he has the capability to become a nice horse.”
Buoyed by two solid showings over fences last fall, Kingsley showed no hesitation in nominating and then, entering Top Striker into Saturday’s $50,000 Carolina Cup feature, a 2 1/8 novice chase over National Fences. The distance and the course is the same as Top Striker won at and over some four months ago.
Sensor and Kingsley are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time in the last four runners of the Camden spring classic. In 2011, the tandem led Sunshine Numbers into the winners’ circle following a dominating 27 ¼-length victory.
Kingsley is not anticipating Top Striker playing hide-and-seek with the field on Saturday, but does expect a solid effort from a horse which will travel just a few hundred yards from his stall to the paddock and then, to the race course.
 “It always gives us a degree of having an advantage to be stabled here and to be running here,” he said of entering his horses in Camden races. “The fact that he’s already run here plays to us. He’s a very efficient jumper and around this course, jumping matters, quite a lot, because the last three fences come up quite quickly and you need to be able to make up or, how your ground at those jumps. I think he’s the type of jumper that will use that to his advantage.”
With a varied cast of starters, questions abound as to how the Carolina Cup might set up. Kingsley, who has had several jumpers which have liked to be on the point, such as Sunshine Numbers and Riddle, said Top Striker does not have to be leading the race early, but needs to stay in contact with the race leaders.
“I think the perfect scenario for him is to just relax and to get into a rhythm, somewhere not too far off the pace,” Kingsley said of how he would like the race to develop and what would best suit Top Striker. “I don’t know what there is going to be in terms of speed in the race. Generally, my horses run best without being dropped out of the race. They like to be in the race and get into their jumping and galloping rhythm somewhere in touch with the pace and then, mount a bid from there.”
With this being Top Striker’s third time over fences and first start of the year, Kingsley was asked whether or not he would give McCarthy any special instructions as to just getting the horse around the course without incident. The former NSA champion jockey himself and a two-time winner of the Carolina Cup said you don’t ride a horse any differently in late March as you would in mid-summer, if you have a chance to come away with the victory.
“You can’t go out there riding conservatively like that,” Kingsley answered that question. “You have to ride your race and if you think you’re on a horse that has a chance to win, you have to ride it to win. If throughout the course of the race that your horse is getting tired, you have to be sensible to that. At that point, you have to adjust accordingly.”


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