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It's business as usual for Kingsley, Top Striker

Posted: November 23, 2016 11:34 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2016 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I photo/

TOP STRIKER BASKS in the sunshine on Tuesday, four days after his win in the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup Steeplechase.

Some people guzzle champagne out of the bottle inside a locker room following a landmark victory. Others, like Camden’s Arch Kingsley Jr., sip from a bowl of soup while sitting in front of a roaring fire along with his family.

There were probably more exciting dining or, party, options at Kingsley’s disposal after the Camden-based trainer saddled Top Striker for its upset victory in Saturday’s 47th running of the $150,000 Marion DuPont Scott Colonial Cup Steeplechase. 

True to form and, to his low-key personality, while others continued celebrating the final event of the National Steeplechase Association season well into the night, Kingsley looked after the horses in his barn --- located across the street from the Springdale Race Course --- then made the short drive home where he was greeted by his wife, Wendy, and their daughter, Taylor.

It was as far of a cry from partying ‘til the cows come home as it gets.

“I went home, made turkey soup and went to bed early,” Kingsley said of his Saturday night Colonial Cup “after party.” 

“It was a long day and there is a lot of adrenaline that runs through your system. When it all settles down, to me, there is no better feeling than to sit down in front of the fireplace on a cold night, have a hot cup of soup, be close to the people you love the most, go to bed early, crawl up under the sheets and then, wake up with that experience in your memory bank.”

Saturday was not Kingsley’s first trip to the Colonial Cup winners’ circle. In 1999, on an utterly miserable afternoon in which Camden was pelted with torrential rains and a biting cold, he rode Ninepins to victory in a Camden fall classic which felt more like a winter classic. The following year, in nearly identical conditions, Kingsley steered Romantic to victory on the day before he was to be married on the grounds of the Springdale Race Course.

All three instances left the Virginia native with the same type of emotion. But you get the feeling that this one, since he trained Top Striker for his good friends and fellow Camdenites Sue Sensor and her husband George, had a special meaning.

“There as good of a high as you can get as a jockey and as rich of a high as you can get as a trainer,” Kingsley said when asked to compare the experiences while tacking up a horse for a breeze on Tuesday morning. 

“I would say they are similar but different. It felt like I was maxing out my experience and pleasure. My journey was as fulfilling and satisfying as it possibly could have been and could possibly be in the role that I am in at this stage in life. It’s equally fulfilling as it was as a rider and I’m especially proud to have had it as a trainer and a rider.”

Top Striker, along with the other nine starters in the field, were supposed to play supporting roles as Rawnaq, the heavy favorite to win the 2016 Eclipse Award, was all but ready to be coronated by putting the finishing touches on an unbeaten campaign. Had there been pari-mutuel wagering in South Carolina, Top Striker would surely had been a double-digit long shot even with the locals probably putting a few bucks on a horse with local ties.

Running 2 ¾ miles for just the second time in his career, after having come home fourth in the 2014 Colonial Cup, Top Striker had plenty left in the tank when jockey Ross Geraghty asked his mount for a big run as the field bounded from the 16th flight of fences and made their way to the 17th and final jump. Having landed safely, the 7-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding went on to the 10 ½-length win, leaving Rawnaq to chase his shadow.

Kingsley said he has seen Top Striker mature through the course of his races to the point to which the additional distance would not be too big a hill to climb. While Sue Sensor admitted to being a bit concerned as to how her horse would handle the length of the Colonial Cup, Kingsley had a feeling that Top Striker could get the distance and was sitting on a big effort Saturday.

“I thought he’d be fine,” Kingsley said of Top Striker’s ability to get the 2 ¾ miles. “He’s run some good races at shorter distance but he’s a versatile horse. How we ride him has something to do with what he can get, distance-wise. I think we’re figuring out how to ride him better.”

Kingsley has always been appreciative of the faith in which the Sensors have shown in him. And he has paid them back, in part, by sending Sunshine Numbers and Top Striker to Carolina Cup wins in 2011 and 2014, respectively. This past Saturday was different. This was the Colonial Cup, one of American chasing’s crown jewel races in which the best jumpers in training come to Camden in order to add to or, cement their legacy. It was the race which Sue Sensor said was the one which she wanted to win the most. It was the Holy Grail for the member of the Carolina Cup Racing Association’s --- which oversees the operation of both steeplechase meets in Camden --- Board of Directors.

Ironically, winning a Grade I chase such as the Colonial Cup will shut some doors to Top Striker. The races which he will be eligible to run in will be, maybe, three in the spring of 2017 before heading to Saratoga for the two major chases there. In the fall, the Lonesome Glory Handicap, the Grand National and the Colonial Cup are about the only options for Kingsley.

“You have to pick your spots carefully because you know that you are going up against the best every time,” Kingsley said of Top Striker’s future starts. “He’ll probably be running less as time goes on but the races will be harder.”

On this day, just four days after his win across the street, Top Striker was bright-eyed and ready to go as he soaked in the morning sun from his stall. Kingsley was ready to accommodate him by taking Top Striker for a gallop on the flat.

As the newly crowned Colonial Cup champion, he was given Sunday off and returned to off-season training Monday morning. That, Kingsley said, is the way his horse likes it.

“Training and racing is their highest reward when they get to this level. They enjoy it so much,” he said. “It’s almost like a form of punishment to take (working out) away from them. They like going to the track every day and doing their work. You establish that routine and they like to maintain it.

“With a horse like Striker, he’s in the groove. We only took one day off with him and when we went back out on the track (on Monday), I had to try and keep him from doing too much because he wanted to train a little more aggressively than I wanted him to train.

“We’re at a place with him where I let him train himself. He tells me what he should do on that day. We’ll keep him happy, keep his relatively fit and in condition and keep a baseline of fitness so when we bring him back in the spring, he won’t have far to travel.”

As he prepared to hop on the back of a horse and go out onto the mile track at the Springdale schooling course, Arch Kingsley Jr. was all smiles. In fact, he probably had not stopped smiling since Saturday afternoon. He had been in this position before as a jockey but this is new territory for him in terms of winning the Colonial Cup.

It was a ride and a feeling that he is not ready to relinquish either now or, in the foreseeable future.

“It has sunk in, it is sinking in and it will continue to sink in,” he said of being part of a winning Colonial Cup team. “Experiences like that, you take them with you and they fill you up every time you recall them. You like to go back to them to feel that feeling again. It’s wonderful. It’s always there for you when you revisit that place. I’ll be forever grateful for a moment like that shared with people that I love so much.

“You don’t get over those kinds of things; they define you and they define your life when you look back on them.”


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