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Surprised? Don’t be. Bob Kingston, who runs a small seven-horse stable, isn’t the first horseman you’d think about when it comes to the leading trainer standings at Century Mile. But learning the ropes from one of the best, Dale Saunders, Kingston has always been able to get a horse ready.
After all, just two years ago in the final meeting ever at Northlands Park, Kingston won with seven of the first nine horses he entered. Four of those wins were consecutive. So when Kingston won with three of his first four starters this season it was really just more of the same.
First, on July 3, he won two races: Factored In and Midnight Shake. Then two days later he scored with Lute. All three came from off the pace and in the cases of Lute and Factored In from way off the pace.
“Of those three the only horse that I can say that I was a little surprised with was Lute,” said Kingston, 63. “It was Lute’s first start of the year and only the second start of his life so I wasn’t really sure how he was going to run.”
Kingston’s apprehensions weren’t helped when Lute got squeezed leaving the starting gate, fell back to last and still only had one horse headed at the top of the stretch.
But with Rico Walcott aboard, Lute, sent away at 4-1, sprinted past them all rolling on the rail and getting up in the final strides. “It’s such a big stretch here that you’re never really out of it. You can still come and catch them,” said Kingston. “A lot of riders still move too early on it. It was a great ride by Rico.”
It was a similar story with Factored In, who paid $6.20 to win. He too got away last. At the top of the stretch he was still last. But with Wilmer Galviz in the irons he blew past them all in the stretch. “Wow. Where did he come from?” extolled track announcer Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle. “The stretch again,” said Kingston. “And another good ride.”
Claimed by Kingston for just $2,500 last fall off trainer Tom Rycroft it was Factored In’s third straight win dating back to last year. Then there was Midnight Shake. Getting away mid pack with jockey Antonio Whitehall and pressing three wide, Midnight Shake, the odds-on-favourite after finishing a good second in his first start of the year, out-gunned Code Eight, who had opened up a four-length lead.
“All three of those horses were ready to run. They all got that extra training time because of Covid-19,” said Kingston. “It was a long spring so to get those three wins was really big,” said Kingston, who owns Lute and Factored In himself and half of Midnight Shake along with the Bushido Stables.
“There wasn’t much money coming in and the bills were really starting to pile up. In February I only had three horses in my barn and one of them was an un-raced three-year-old. I had Lute and Factored In. Then, early in June, Judy Hunter, my sister-in-law sent me Midnight Shake from Saskatchewan because they weren’t racing there. Midnight Shake came ready to run too.”
Kingston has pulled off many upset wins in his career. But there was none bigger than Fly Esteem who won the 2004 Alberta Derby at Stampede Park in Calgary. Dead last, defeated by 22 lengths in his Derby prep race, the Hoofprint On My Hear Handicap, Fly Esteem shocked just about everybody except Kingston returning $83.70 on a $2 ticket.
“He should never have been 40-1. The Hoofprint On My Heart was the only bad race he had run and he got banged around in the starting gate and then he swallowed his tongue. So we put a tongue tie on him for the Derby. The previous year he won the Premier’s Futurity so we knew he had talent. I still have the tape of that race. One of the broadcasters said Fly Esteem has no chance to win. He said the only thing he may do is screw the speed up.”
Kingston knew differently. “I knew he could run,” Kingston said after the race when Fly Esteem got away second behind Saw Grass Sabre, one of three entrants sent out by trainer R.K. ‘Red’ Smith, took the lead turning for home and then held off the big, late charge of B.C. invader Lord Samarai by a diminishing length. Fly Esteem was ridden by Desmond Bryan and owned by St. Albert’s John and Genie Murphy, a barn Kingston trained for 16 years. "Robert told me not to try to go with Saw Grass Sabre so my horse (Fly Esteem) relaxed very nice for me,” Bryan related after the race. “When I asked him to pick it up, he went on.”
"I worked with a lot of stake-quality horses when I was with Dale but Fly Esteem was the first stakes winner I had on my own,” said Kingston. “It was pretty exciting because a lot of trainers go years and never get a stake horse. “Oddly enough, after his racing days were over he was sold to chuckwagon driver Jason Glass and won the Calgary Stampede too.” Despite the horse’s long odds, Kingston said he never bet. “I don’t bet. Never have. I’m here just for the horses and the game.”
Kingston has been around horses as far back as he can remember. “My dad, Howie, had a big barn in Vancouver where I grew up. My dad, who was pretty popular and a real funny guy, would leave for the track at 4 a.m. and I’d go with him. I’d walk horses. Then, at 8 a.m., I’d ride my bike to school. “After supper I’d go back to the track and walk winners in the test barn all night.”
In 1973 Kingston came to Alberta and worked for Doug Smith for a year before going to Saunders’ barn. Over the years, Kingston worked for Saunders for about 14 years.
“I believe Dale was Alberta’s leading trainer 10 times. Seven of those times, including four years in a row, were when I worked for him.”
Three years later, in 1978, the man they nicknamed Beaner, ended up in the jock’s room as a valet for Ron Hansen. “It was a tough jock’s room to get into. Besides Hansen you had Bruce Phelan, Rick Hedge, Herb Ollive and Don Seymour. I was lucky. I got Hansen when he was a bug boy,” he said of the late rider who was twice Canada’s top rider before moving south to Bay Meadows. Hansen ended up winning 3,693 winners with purse earnings of $36.6 million. “Those were the days. The real hey-days of horse racing in Alberta.”
In 1983, when Hansen took his saddle to northern California, Kingston went back to work for Saunders. Then, in 1986, Kingston went on his own taking out his trainer’s license and moving back to B.C. for six years. Two years later he hit another ‘Fly Esteem’ jackpot: he won the second prize in the 6-49 lottery. “I won $123,232,23. Lucky. Lucky. It couldn’t have come at a better time. On the Friday night before the drawing my wife and I were arguing over who would be able to get new shoes. The next day we were wondering what to do with all that money,” said Kingston, who wound up paying off his farm and investing the rest of it for his kids.
In 1991 Kingston returned to Alberta. “I couldn’t get any good horses in B.C. Just a bunch of cheap claimers so I came back to Alberta and worked a year for Brad Smythe, who had stakes winner Mr. Morris - a nice, big, good looking horse - in his barn, then two years for Ron Burrell and then eventually back to Saunders.”
Then Kingston got his big break when he started training for the Murphys in 2003. “They were in the top five of Alberta’s leading breeders four or five times. As well as Fly Esteem’s 2004 Derby win they won some 13 other stakes races.”
So what’s next? “Keep winning races,” said Kingston, who after winning with three of his first four starters has added a third and a fifth-place placing. “Hopefully I can get some better stock. A guy always likes more money. “But I want to stay small. Ten horses would be plenty.”
On Sunday’s 9-race card wagering was easily a season high with $925,852 bet.
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