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A tribute to a king
Kingston Rule was equine royalty from the day he took his first wobbly steps on Kentucky’s famous bluegrass. When he was born, the stud manager logged a simple report—“chestnut … magic”.
He was a product of greatness, the combining of the best with the best from both sides of the world. His sire was the legendary American Triple Crown hero and dual Horse of the Year, Secretariat, a horse that some say is the best to ever look through a bridle.
Kingston Rule’s dam, Rose Of Kingston (by Claude (ITY)), travelled from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula for the liaison. Her papers were stamped “champion”, an Australian Horse Of The Year who beat the colts in the 1982 Group 1 AJC Derby, after she had won the 1981 Group 1 VRC Oaks. Her colt, with his rich, golden chestnut colouring and flashy white blaze, was everything you could hope from such a union.
Melbourne owner-breeder David Hains, a dominant figure in Australian racing at the time, had a small, boutique broodmare farm in Kentucky to go with his Kingston Park Stud in Victoria. Hains sent a band of his best mares to Kentucky to be bred to the America’s leading stallions, with the resultant offspring to return to race in Australia. It was an experiment that lasted about eight years, and included the exporting Rose Of Kingston’s half-sister, the 1984 Group 1 VRC Oaks winner Spirit Of Kingston (by Bletchingly), and their dam Kingston Rose (by Better Boy).
After an unplaced run in France as a 2YO for trainer Patrick Biancone, Kingston Rule was imported to Australia and joined the stable of Tommy Smith at Randwick in Sydney. Smith and Hains had combined to dominate Australian racing earlier that decade with Kingston Town, the champion triple Cox Plate winner, who was gelded after finishing last at his racetrack debut. The same fate was on the cards of Kingston Rule, if Smith had his way, after the handsome 4YO finished an inauspicious 35-length last at his first Australian racetrack appearance, on a heavy track over 1400m at Warwick Farm in May, 1989.
That was when Hains made one of the most important decisions of his life. He had great faith in Kingston Rule and rather than geld him, he decided to spell the entire before switching trainers, and he sent Kingston Rule to Bart Cummings, the champion trainer of stayers who Hains thought would suit Kingston Rule’s stout pedigree. And in one of the twists that make the bloodstock world such an interesting place, the story of Kingston Rule’s lineage goes back to the master trainer from the beginning.
Bart part-owned and trained Kingston Rose and it was Cummings who recommended Hains buy her at sale after she retired from racing. The mare was from Sojourner, a half-sister to the flying South Australian filly Proud Miss, tracing back to the mare Opera Bouffe (a daughter of the first imported Melbourne Cup winner Comedy King—2010), who was owned by Cummings’ father Jim, and who provided Cummings snr with his first two Classic winners as a trainer—1928 VRC Oaks winner Opera Queen and 1931 SA Derby winner Opera King. Cummings claims in his book, Bart, that he learned to ride on Opera Bouffe’s grand-daughter Cushla.
Kingston Rule blossomed under Cummings, and won his first race, second up, at a Sandown meeting over 1600m in the autumn of 1990. He progressed so far, that he finished seventh behind Vo Rogue in the Group 1 Australian Cup (wfa 2000m) at Flemington at the end of his first campaign with Cummings.
Kingston Rule, who relished firm ground, missed a run in the Caulfield Cup, but earned his Melbourne Cup start with a win in the Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup (2600m). He warmed up for the Cup with a second behind Mount Olympus in The Dalgety (2500m) at Flemington on Derby Day, and dropped from 56kg to 53kg in the Cup. Kingston Rule, beautifully rated by Darren Beadman, tracked the pace in the Cup before taking over on the turn, and then held off The Phantom under hands and heels riding—his winning time of 3min 16.3secs remains a course record for 3200 metres.
“He didn’t come right though until he had fully acclimatised. However, Tom didn’t think he was going to make it,” Hains said.
“I thought he was too good a horse to give up on, a very good looking horse, a classic looking horse. I asked Bart to take him on and he was happy to do so. Tommy though claimed after we’d won the Melbourne Cup that we’d sacked him, and we’d taken the horse from him, but that wasn’t true.”
Hains doesn’t claim genius for the mating—“to put Rose of Kingston, one of the top fillies of the period, to Secretariat, one of the great horses of the era, was just a good idea.
“Like all breeding, I just hoped for the best. You can do the nicks and crosses as a matter of routine, but you can make a story with racehorses in a number of different ways. All on the face of it should be great racehorses, but they are not. The outlying breeds can also produce champions.”
Hains believes though it’s a combination of the great trainers with the right horse, and sometimes the right bloodlines that produce the champions of the turf. “Only a limited number of trainers have the skill level of a Tommy Smith or a Bart Cummings or a Colin Hayes. I’m not suggesting there aren’t some current trainers that have it as well, but that group dominated racing for years and years and years. I think JB (Cummings) has a genius for all horses, but particularly where he has the patience to train Cup winners.”
Kingston Rule broke down after three starts in the autumn of 1991, and Hains retired him to stand at Tim Johnson’s Ealing Park Stud, Euroa. The handsome chestnut hasn’t attracted the cream of the mares, but he eight stakes winners from about 190 winners, includes the outstanding Hains-owned and -bred filly Kensington Palace, who won the 1997 Group 1 VRC Oaks. Kingston Rule, aged 24 by northern hemisphere time in 2010, remains the only Melbourne Cup winner at stud in Australia. In 2009, he covered six mares.
“He’s a lovely old horse,” Johnson said.
Kingston Rule, aged 25, died at Ealing Park on December 2. His youngest progeny are foals in 2011—three colts and a filly from five mares covered in his final season in 2010.
Interestingly, two of those mares travelled all the way from Queensland—the half-sisters Bluegrass Queen (b m 2001, American Odyssey (USA)-Kasisi (IRE), by Bluebird (USA)) and Royal Something (b or br m 2004, Xaar (GB)—for a purpose, to double on the blood of the great broodmare, Somethingroyal (USA) (by Princequillo (IRE)), the dam of Secretariat. The third dam of the two mares, Cherryville (USA), by Correspondent (USA), is daughter of Somethingroyal.
This is an edited extract from The Melbourne Cup, the story of Australia’s greatest race, published by The Slattery Media Group. This magnificent book is for sale at a wonderful price of $30 (down from $100). Go to www.slatteryracingbooks.com and enter the code CHRISTMAS at the check-out or phone (03) 9627 2600.