Features

Dust off those rusty strings just one more time…

“Gonna make ‘em shine,” Arch Kingsley, Jr. said in a text, referencing a Grateful Dead ballad, before mounting his first ride in eight years. 

Three minutes and 51 seconds after the starter’s flag dropped, he made good on that promise.

“If you’re sitting on a good one, leave him alone,” Kingsley said. “He’ll figure out the rest.”

Kingsley piloted Kilronan to win a maiden hurdle at the Queen’s Cup near Charlotte, N.C., April 24. The two-time champion jockey turned trainer rode his last race in 2013. It was his mount’s first start over jumps. The rain was relentless and the Carolina clay was growing greasy. But Kilronan took command of the nine-horse field shortly after the first fence and Kingsley never let up.

“I’m not a big planner. Race riding is situational,” he said. “I just try and get the horse to relax.”

Not having run over the National Steeplechase Association’s new EASYFIX fences before, the 6-year-old was green at the first three flights.

“He does have the tendency to drift right,” Kingsley said, “But when it came to knuckling down, he straightened out.”

Never seriously challenged after taking the lead, Kilronan drew clear of the field in the stretch and kept rolling long after the finish. After finally pulling up, Kingsley walked into the winner’s enclosure, fist bumped daughter Taylor, 15, and stripped his own tack. His grin grew wider as he ascended the stairs to weigh in.

“I’ve had him since he was a yearling,” Kingsley said of Kilronan. “Now he’s this bear of a horse – probably 1,400 pounds.”

Longtime owner David Richardson, along with partners Richard Knapp and Bob Agnello, purchased the son of Point Of Entry at the Keeneland September sale in 2016. Bred for the turf, the plan from the beginning was to develop Kilronan on the flat before transitioning to jumps.

“It’s a patient business model,” Kingsley said. “Dave [Richardson] has been a great supporter, he’s convinced some of his friends from the flat to look at owning jumpers with less reserve.” 

An allowance hurdle at the Virginia Gold Cup on May 29 could be Kilronan’s next stop. Kingsley wouldn’t commit to keeping the ride when asked, “But it could happen.” His hopes are high for the gelding’s future.

“I’d like to get him to Saratoga,” Kingsley said. “His owners are heavily rooted in the flat game, so it would be nice for them to see him there.”

Back in the Tack

A native of Loudoun County, V.A., Kingsley comes from a deep family of horsemen. His mother, Kassie, was an accomplished rider on the point-to-point circuit in the 1960s and his father, Arch Sr., was Master of Foxhounds at the Middleburg Hunt. As soon as he was old enough to drive, Kingsley began working at legendary huntsman Albert Poe’s stable. 

“I probably galloped 10,000 miles around Albert’s dirt track,” Kingsley said with a laugh. 

But he estimates he racked up many more miles behind the wheel of his 1978 Volkswagen Bus following the Grateful Dead in the late 1980s. 

“Following the Dead was like college for becoming a jump jockey,” Kingsley said. “You’re on the road all the time. Both are like signing up for the circus.”

But in 1990, Kingsley got a haircut and started wearing more tweed than tie dye. Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland died that summer, and the quality of the band’s playing became less consistent. 

“The music wasn’t as satisfying after Brent died,” he said. “It was the perfect time to shift my focus to riding full time.”

Kingsley buckled down and got a job working for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. He rode his first race under rules in 1993 and was champion jockey in 1997 and 1999. In the 2000s, he began training and built a powerful stable of jumpers and flat horses in Camden, S.C., while still riding sporadically. 

Now entering his fourth decade riding races, the chance to ride a winner still motivates Kingsley.

“I love the craft and I love my horses,” he says. “There’s nobody who’s as invested in my horses and owners as I am. I’ll keep riding as long as I can do it well.”

• Kingsley guided Do The Floss to finish fifth and Sherkali to finish second at Middleburg Spring Races Saturday.