There have been countless studies on home-field advantage in sports. Harvard University examined it. Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, SB Nation have written numerous articles on it. Professor Tobias J. Moskovitz and L. Jon Wertheim compiled home-field stats in sports from soccer to cricket in their book, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won.
Wonder if they ever asked Arch Kingsley?
The trainer, yet again, put a notch in the home-field advantage column producing Show Court to win the Carolina Cup April 1, Kingsley’s third Carolina Cup win as a trainer and eighth victory in Camden since 2012. Since 2013, half of Kingsley’s total wins have come at the Carolina Cup or Colonial Cup meets.
Owned by Mark Buyck Jr., Show Court had won one hurdle race in his career, all the way back at Limerick in 2015. Since being imported from Dermot Weld’s yard last winter, the son of Vinnie Roe had finished 10th on the flat at the International Gold Cup and seventh in the Hobkirk Hill at the Colonial Cup meet in November. That’s it.
In sports, theories abound over why home-field advantage exists – from rest to referees. Kingsley hasn’t read the papers and can’t explain his proficiency at his local track.
“All I can tell you is it’s in the front of my intentions and it seems to happen,” Kingsley said. “I don’t have a formula, I don’t have a science, I just pour my energy into doing well on this day because I love this town, I love the people here and I know how much the spring and fall races mean to the history of steeplechasing.”
Not exactly helpful in a science journal, but certainly insightful to why Kingsley’s horses flourish when the flag falls on the other side of Knight’s Hill Road from his year-round base in the far corner of Springdale Training Center. Kingsley grew up in Virginia, traveled the steeplechase circuit while earning a champion jockey title, worked for Hall of Famer Bill Mott and then set up shop in Camden. The history of his adopted home was ingrained in him, partly from his dad who rode Lenoso in the Carolina Cup, when it was a timber race.
“I heard all the stories. You know when you want something really bad, you design everything around it and, yet, in some kind of magical way everything lines up to make it happen. I feel like that has happened for me,” Kingsley said. “Somebody texted me that this was my eighth win in the Carolina Cup or Colonial Cup as a trainer or a jockey. I didn’t know that, like they say, you just jump from fence to fence, you just focus on one at a time.”
Show Court jumped fence to fence in a dominant performance. Michael Murphy convinced Show Court to back off frontrunner Red Hammer early, bided his time alone in second before unleashing a strong kick to win the $75,000 novice stakes by 7 lengths over Castle Hill and Willow U. Red Hammer set a furious pace which created a 25-length clothes line from first to last. When Red Hammer wilted, Show Court took over, adding his name to a chiseled list.
“The history and the allure of the races, to do well in this town…Camden is so important to steeplechasing, more than anywhere in this country, it’s the hub, we have a training center dedicated to it, the museum, two top level races during the year, it’s a special place because of that. That significance makes it all that much more important to do well here,” Kingsley said. “I can’t tell you how it’s happened, I can just tell you every time it’s involved a very worthy horse and I’ve found people who have come along on that expedition consistently to make it happen. The horse, the owners, my intention, my desire is to do well here. That’s the winning formula for me.”
The formula for Show Court took a while to boil. Imported in February 2016, the Irish-bred missed the spring season for various issues. He skipped the summer season for the same reasons. By fall, he at least got to the races, but was far from polished, finishing off the board in two starts.
“He had nagging little issues, I never ran the horse expecting anything,” Kingsley said. “Even running him at Camden in the Hobkirk last fall, it was specifically just to give him a look around a racecourse as a precursor to the Carolina Cup. The whole thing had been designed for that moment right there.”
Buyck, a partner in the law firm Willcox, Buyck & Williams in Florence, S.C. and a member of the board of trustees of the University of South Carolina, had the toughest call of all on the weekend. With his alma mater in the Final Four and his horse running in the Carolina Cup, Buyck opted for the Carolina Cup.
“It was a bucket list moment for him,” Kingsley said. “And at the same time halfway across the country another one was about to happen, thankfully, he chose the right one.”
Call it a home-field decision.
• Nancy Ruch wasn’t quite as confident as Kingsley when asked about her confidence level with Maximum Horsepower in the maiden at Camden.
“It was a tough field, he was just going for a school around,” Ruch said. “I was confident he would get around, he was fit and ready to fire but I was impressed with his tenacity.”
Maximum Horsepower, a 6-year-old son of Dixie Union, used tenacity and talent to upset six rivals in the $30,000 maiden. Bernie Dalton settled the winner in the back of the seven-horse field, gradually moved through to run down Wing Foot to score by 1 length. Giza wound up third.
Nancy and her husband Jason, who works for Wing Foot’s trainer Richard Valentine, found Maximum Horsepower at Belterra Park last summer. The winner of three of 19 starts on the flat arrived at the Ruch’s three-stall barn on the edge of Camden hunt country in August, learned a new gig and finished third in the training flat at Aiken a week before his hurdle debut.
“Jason and I like to get horses and make them,” Nancy Ruch said. “We always have some little project, something that’s good looking, has the right shape, we look a little bit at breeding, look a little bit at their flat form, but mostly just look at the horse. What it is when it comes off the trailer is what we have to work with, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
With Maximum Horsepower, it has worked so far.
“He’s super easy, he’s lovely, he’ll hack out in in the woods, just a great little horse, lovely to ride,” Ruch said. “It was a major thrill. Willie McCarthy’s on one for Jack Fisher, he’s like ‘oh Nancy, this one’s really nice.’ Jason works for Richard Valentine, he’s like, ‘These are really nice, I don’t know.’ To have little Max go out and do his job was just great. To watch him enjoy it, it’s fun when the horse really enjoys it.”
• There are many ways to prep for the Carolina Cup races. Some horses spun around point-to-point courses. Some used the training flat race at Aiken a week earlier. Others used months of winter training to get to the second stop on the steeplechase tour. And one used Gulfstream Park. Yes, Gulfstream Park.
Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard sent out homebred Rare Mix for three turf tries in South Florida this winter, culminating in a neck win in a $16,000 non-winners-of-three claimer Feb. 3. The daughter of Partner’s hero breezed four times since that win before shipping north for her hurdle debut in the filly and mare maiden.
Darren Nagle put her flat speed to good use, opening up and never looking back to waltz to a 7-length win over first-time starter Amnicalola and stablemate Admiring Glance.
A Pennsylvania-bred out of hurdle winner Gemini’s Gem, by Gemini Dreamer, and bred by her owner and trainer, Rare Mix improved her career record to four wins from seven starts over four seasons.
• Jack Fisher looked loaded in the timber race, saddling Syros and Sharp Numbers for the $20,000 race. Only one made it to the start as Sharp Numbers dropped jockey Willie McCarthy before the race and was scratched. Syros made up for that miscue with a 2-length score over Puller. Sean McDermott guided the son of Dynaformer in his first timber victory. Owned by Gillian Johnston, Syros snapped a losing streak dating back to the Marcellus Frost in 2015.
• Grade 3 winner Diplomat prepped for bigger things with a training flat win for Kate and Bernie Dalton and Flying Elvis Stable. Winless since taking the Ferguson Memorial back in 2015, the 8-year-old handled British import Quality Song and maiden hurdle winner Cash Crop.
• Irish import Swansea Mile won the maiden training flat to open the card for Rosbrian Farm, Ricky Hendriks and Ross Geraghty. A three-time winner over hurdles in Ireland, the son of Dylan Thomas finished fourth in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory last fall before finishing off the board in the Foxbrook at Far Hills and the Noel Laing at Montpelier.