Kingman: 'There are some in the camp who think he'd have beaten Frankel'
Fans Favourites' is a weekly feature in the Racing Post Weekender in which we talk to those closest to racing's most popular horses and find out why they tug on our heartstrings. This week's subject: Kingman.
Juddmonte know how to breed and produce world-class racehorses, it is something they have been doing to a ridiculously high degree of success for decades. Yet, almost quite staggeringly, two of their greatest horses came along within two years of each other.
Racing fans know all too well the Frankel story and that scintillating performance in the 2,000 Guineas ten years ago, but just 63 days before that extraordinary Classic victory the operation's next sensational miler was born. Kingman.
Comparisons between the two are something the stud’s director Simon Mockridge is all too used to. Who would have won in a race between the pair is a legitimate question, but the fact we can ask it is just a reminder of how phenomenal Kingman was in his own right.
Mockridge says: "A lot of people come to see both horses and it's quite interesting that they do ask the question. There's some in the camp who think he would’ve beaten Frankel – which I'm surprised about. There are a number of people who felt he had that kind of ability to do it, but fortunately we never had to find out. We're just so lucky to have had two great horses in such a short period of time."
Mockridge reaffirms that Kingman's popularity has not faded, even with the mighty Frankel also housed in Banstead Manor Stud. While both were indeed exceptional, the style of their brilliance on the racecourse was so different. Frankel had the freakish stride which meant he could simply power away from his rivals without breaking sweat. Kingman was more of a coiled spring, who could travel dangerously when using the early to mid part of the race to find his position. Then in a matter of strides he could go, powering away from his rivals to win with considerable ease.
"Kingman is a very nice horse to be around," he adds. "He's got a bit more spark than most of them, but he does his job very well. He has great balance and incredible depth – he's strong through the barrel and has got good quarters. He's got a good mind, but I suppose above all else he had that one thing which everybody wants, that electric turn of foot.
"He could travel really well and when it was required he just turned it on and would put two or three lengths between him and the rest. Frankel had a different style, he had that big, rangy stride with which he could just gallop everybody to death and just keep going."
Kingman's star quality is of no surprise given he has a typical Juddmonte pedigree, steeped with class. The dam Zenda was a Classic winner, while he had plenty of pace injected through his sire Invincible Spirit. That was the first time the late Khalid Abdullah had used that stallion.
It was clear from Kingman's early days he was a bit special, and trainer John Gosden certainly agreed. And the whole world was aware after he bolted up on his debut at Newmarket in July 2013.
Mockridge recalls: "We always liked him as a foal. He had a lofty reputation and there were big sounds coming out of John's, but he wasn't favourite for his debut that day [that honour went to the Brian Meehan-trained Man Amongst Men, who never fulfilled his promise and retired a maiden].
"He was a bit slow out of the stalls, they went an all right pace, he found himself in mid-division and around three furlongs out he was pushed into the race.
"But I remember him suddenly exploding out of the pack and running away to win impressively. It's always difficult in those maidens to know whether or not it was a good race, but he was a six-length winner and it was a big performance."
Kingman then ran out the comfortable winner of the Solario Stakes at Sandown, but setbacks kept him off the track for the remainder of his two-year-old campaign.
He reappeared at three in Newbury's Greenham Stakes, where it was time to find out whether he was a legitimate Guineas contender. He answered that question with some authority.
"I thought he was super-impressive that day – he showed that electric turn of foot we knew he had," Mockridge adds. "I think that was the moment we all sat up and paid attention, thinking 'wow, this is a serious horse'.
"That victory came hard on the heels of Frankel's Greenham, when he beat Excelebration.
"I don't think we expected to get another horse you could talk about in the same breath so soon. From our point of view, to have two great milers was just fantastic, especially as Prince Khalid had bred both. It was a phenomenal result."
The 2,000 Guineas of 2014 still probably haunts Kingman fans as it would turn out to be the only blot on an outstanding career.
The field were split into two groups on either side of the Newmarket track, Kingman travelling with his usual zest on the far side and when James Doyle asked for that turbo boost, he appeared to get it.
He looked destined for Classic success until the Kieren Fallon-ridden 40-1 shot Night Of Thunder – a horse he had thumped in the Greenham – veered across the track, but crucially finished a half-length in front as they crossed the line.
"It was a very unsatisfactory result on the day," says Mockridge. "The race split and you had Australia on the stands' side, and Night Of Thunder and Kingman on the far rail. I think Coolmore would've been as gutted as we were as they honestly believed Australia was the best horse on the day, and they were on the wrong side.
"From John's point of view I think he found the Guineas very difficult to swallow. There was no doubt it was a shock he'd got beaten – everyone felt that way.
"I remember the day clearly, being stood in the stands and watching him shoot pass Night Of Thunder as if he was going to win by four or five lengths. Kieren then darted across the track, almost like a slingshot, and he seemed to gain momentum to go up the hill and win. He was the best horse on the day and was just one of those things.
"It was a hell of a race and now you have those three horses [Kingman, Night Of Thunder and Australia] now excelling at stud. It reminds me of the 1984 Guineas when El Gran Senor won, and there were horses like Rainbow Quest and Lear Fan behind him."
As Guineas go, this was an epic one. Night Of Thunder would win a Lockinge, third-placed Australia a Derby and Irish Derby, while future Group 1 winners Charm Spirit, Kingston Hill and The Grey Gatsby were in behind.
The first step of Kingman's redemption would come at the Curragh in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Kingman was sent off a 4-5 chance and he delivered just as expected, moving through the race like the winner before putting five lengths between him and the rest of the field. There were doubts he would even run that day due to the ground – described as soft, heavy in places.
But perhaps the biggest day for the Kingman camp would come at Royal Ascot, where he had a golden opportunity to settle a score with Night Of Thunder in the St James's Palace Stakes.
As the stalls opened, things were different. Night Of Thunder, no longer a 40-1 shot, but an 11-4 chance, charged into an early lead under Richard Hughes.
Doyle had to be patient from the rear, and he remained behind horses on the swing for home. Looming up on the wide outside just before the furlong-pole, the ice-cool jockey sent Kingman about his business, the pair accelerating to the line to scoot two and a quarter lengths clear of Night Of Thunder, making it look easy in the process.
Mockridge remembers: "Coming into that last two furlongs, I just wondered if we were going to get on terms, but Kingman won well. He quickened away, displaying his electric turn of foot."
It was a win Doyle particularly enjoyed – famously spinning round and putting his finger on his lips as Kingman crossed the line. They had not only silenced their rivals, but stunned them.
"James enjoyed it and probably felt vindicated," says Mockbridge. "There was a degree of frustration from the Guineas, but there you go."
Taking on his elders was next on the agenda for Kingman, his Ascot heroics making him the one to fear in a generational clash with Toronado – another Hannon-trained colt – in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
With just four runners, the race was a tactical affair and when Toronado kicked two furlongs out he opened up a gap of two lengths.
Like many before him Kingman became unbalanced on the quirky, downhill track, but once Doyle got him organised he swept past Toronado in a flash.
Then to France for the Prix Jacques le Marois, where Olympic Glory was the latest Hannon-trained rival to put it up to Kingman.
Olympic Glory could manage only third, however, as Kingman ran out a comfortable winner from the Freddy Hea-trained Anodin.
That would prove to be the final start of Kingman's incredible career. The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was to have been swanson, but he did not recover from a throat infection in time.
Gosden hailed Kingman as "the most exciting colt" he had trained, while Doyle told the Racing Post after the news broke: "I'll always remember him – every time I've ridden him he's been a star. What separated him from the others was his cruising speed and his ability to quicken. That and his temperament – he was so relaxed."
And success has carried through Kingman's next career as a stallion. From his first crop hitting the track in September, 2018, he has already produced a string of high-class horses including Palace Pier, Persian King, Calyx and Domestic Spending to name just a few.
"He's had four Group 1 winners already and Palace Pier looks a horse of immense talent," Mockridge adds. "He's had a Group 1 winner in Japan, so he's started reaching out to the global stage, which stands him in strong stead. We're delighted with the way he's going."
As for Juddmonte, their wait for another superstar did not take long. Two months before Kingman's explosive Greenham success a mare called Enable was taking her first steps.
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