Top Striker

B.g., 2009, Van Nistelrooy—Two’s Cozy, by Cozzene.
Bred by Sycamore Hall Farm; owned by Sue Sensor; trained by Arch Kingsley Jr.
Foaled at Sycamore Hall Farm, Chesapeake City.

Two years ago in this spot, trainer Arch Kingsley sang the praises of his horse Top Striker by adding the phrase “. . . and he’s turning into a nice horse” at the end of a quote about the progression from flat horse to steeplechase horse.

Kingsley – and Top Striker – turned out to be right as they combined on another award as Maryland-bred steeplechase champion of 2016. Bred by Richard Golden’s Sycamore Hall Farm, Top Striker duplicated his title-winning season of 2014 but took things to a new level by becoming a Grade 1 winner, Eclipse Award finalist and player in the upper reaches of the jump division.

Not bad for a horse whose last start for Golden came in a $30,000 claimer in 2013. The new career pretty much saved Top Striker, who has won five times over fences for Kingsley and South Carolina-based owners Sue and George Sensor. The son of Van Nistelrooy (a top striker in the world of soccer) came into 2016 as something of an unknown. He was good in 2014, winning two novice hurdle stakes as part of an eight-start campaign, but missed 2015 with an injury.

The new year began with a fourth behind eventual Eclipse Award winner Rawnaq (Ire) in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey and then a third behind Charminster (Ire) and Schoodic in the David Semmes Memorial Stakes-G2 at Great Meadow. While not victories, the efforts certainly helped shake off some rust. Dropping to handicap company, Top Striker finished third at Fair Hill in May and was second twice (once by a hard-luck nose) at Saratoga.

Then came autumn. For whatever reason, Top Striker bloomed when the leaves started to change. Teamed up with jockey Paddy Young for the first time, the bay gelding pulled a mild upset in the $75,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial-G2 at Great Meadow Oct. 22. A month later, on his home course, Kingsley aimed for the $150,000 Colonial Cup-G1 and a rematch with Rawnaq.

Two days before the race, Kingsley explained why.

“He seems really well with himself, coming off a win always gives you confidence, the home-field advantage always seems to count for something for me around here,” said the trainer, from his shedrow down the sandy lane between the training field and the hunter trial field – and across the street from the race course – at Springdale Training Center in Camden, S.C. “The horse is doing as well as he’s ever done, he’s run well here before, he won the Carolina Cup [in 2014], he broke his maiden here [in 2013]. Look at him, that’s him squealing right there, he’s announcing himself.”

He kept announcing himself, stalking favorite Rawnaq throughout and attacking at the 16th of 17 fences. Top Striker drew off late and won by 10 1⁄2 lengths for jockey Ross Geraghty. Rawnaq settled for second, his only defeat of the year.

Top Striker, who started twice on the flat, earned $175,700 in 2016 to get to $326,954 for his career. He was produced from the unraced Cozzene mare Two’s Cozy, whose dam Sparkling Number was a multiple stakes winner and a stakes producer.

Joe Clancy

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