Kingsley readies jumpers, flat horses at Spa

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The days were counting down to Cash Crop’s first start over hurdles and Arch Kingsley Jr. identified a problem. He also came up with a solution, one that was as much about horsemanship as it was about improvisation and maybe even a little innovation.

Kingsley trains steeplechase and flat horses for the spring and summer months at Saratoga Race Course. Saratoga offers almost as much as any racetrack in the offseason, from the quiet and spacious setting to the useful and safe dirt track and soon-to-open turf course at the Oklahoma Training Track. The main track will open for training Monday, more than a month before the meet begins July 24.

One thing it doesn’t offer this time of year is any steeplechase schooling. There are no hurdles to be found.

Thus was Kingsley’s issue as he readied Cash Crop, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor gelding he trains for longtime clients Sue and George Sensor, for his jumps debut in the first race Friday at Monmouth Park. Kingsley had schooled the gelding Sensor claimed for $25,000 last November back home in South Carolina, but it’s been awhile since the string shipped to Saratoga in mid-May.

So Kingsley and his team went to work, put together a pair of makeshift jumps and got some schooling in Thursday morning at the bottom of the hill at the back of the Oklahoma grounds.

“We cut some pallets in half, stood them on end and that gave us room to stuff a bunch of brush into them,” Kingsley said in the shedrow of Barn 28 Thursday morning after training. “We drove around town and since there was a lot of springtime cleaning, hedge trimming if you will, going on around town we just collected some cedar, evergreen, all over town. We stuffed the pallets full.

“Then we built our rolls. Our friends at ThoroBred Feed loaned us the tarps and delivered us some straw down there and that’s what the roll was. We just kind of begged, borrowed and stole everything that we needed that would kind of look like a hurdle. The horses went down there and schooled them like they were nationals.”

Street Fight, a maiden winner over the official National Fences constructed of compact foam rubber, plastic and steel at Aiken in October 2013 and runner-up in back-to-back editions of the Grade 3 Imperial Cup in 2014 and 2015 for Dogwood Stables, also schooled over Kingsley’s homemade jumps. The Street Sense 6-year-old is 3-1 in Friday’s fifth race at Monmouth, an allowance-optional going 2 1/4 miles.

Kingsley almost had an entrant in each of the three jump races at Monmouth, but said he’ll scratch Cash Rules from the third, like the opener a 2 1/4-mile maiden hurdle, after the Peace Rules gelding showed some signs of soreness this week.

“I was sweating it a little bit with how they were going to work,” Kingsley said. “I basically just put all the parts together so we just assembled them this morning.”

Kingsley, with a little help from this writer, disassembled the jumps right around the end of training hours Thursday morning. He’ll ship Cash Crop, Street Fight and Vischer Ferry, a maiden Congaree gelding who will run Saturday at Belmont Park for Tom D’Ambra’s Trade Winds Farm, early Friday morning.

Sixteen horses under Kingsley’s care will stay in upstate New York, where Kingsley’s trained the last two spring/summer seasons. He’s won plenty of races at Saratoga through the years, as a steeplechase jockey and a trainer, but he’d never made it a base outside of the summer meeting until last year.

Kingsley used to prep young horses for clients in Camden, S.C. and send them along to other trainers in May, shortly after the Kentucky Derby. D’Ambra, a co-founder of the Albany Medical Research firm that played a role in the development of the allergy medication Allegra, was a client and was interested in getting his horses closer to his nearby home.

“Last year he called me in the spring and said ‘would you take the horses to New York for me?’ ” Kingsley said. “I’d been prepping them for him and sending to Will Phipps, Tres Abbott for a while, and he called and asked if I would take them to New York. I told him, ‘well, let me think about it.’ Wendy, my wife, was like, ‘are you crazy? This is what you wanted to do.’ So I was like ‘OK, I guess so.’ I needed her blessing for sure.”

Even though he’d be away from his family and home in South Carolina for about four months, Kingsley really only had one stipulation once he made the decision to head north.

“I said to him that I would with the condition that we upgrade a little bit,” Kingsley said. “The homebred program wasn’t really cutting it and then he went to the sales last year and bought 10. So we’ve got them and a few holdovers from his breeding program. We win a race for him now and again, not as much as I’d like. He’s a great guy, a real good supporter of mine. I appreciate it, especially because it’s not like I’ve given him some amazing returns.”

Kingsley comes into Friday’s races at Monmouth and Saturday’s maiden-claimer at Belmont with Vischer Ferry with one win from just nine starters this year. He’s won 68 races in his career as a trainer, a little more than half the 129 he won as a steeplechase jockey from 1993 to 2013.

Kingsley is stabled for now in a barn at about the three-eighths pole on the main track that the late Hall of Fame trainer Scotty Schulhofer trained out of when he was in Saratoga. Schulhofer was a native of South Carolina who was a successful steeplechase jockey before a training career that saw him twice win the Belmont Stakes, in 1993 with Colonial Affair and again in 1999 with Lemon Drop Kid.

“I used to come over and talk to Scotty, not often, but I remember him coming over and he’d take me into the office and want to show me old jump racing pictures and stuff,” Kingsley said. “He was a gentleman. Lovely guy.”