Before Queen, there was King
With the Caulfield Cup run and won, the spotlight now turns to Moonee Valley and champion mare Winx on Saturday. Winx is chasing both her 22nd consecutive race win and her third consecutive Cox Plate win. If she crosses the line in first place, she'll equal Kingston Town's 35-year-old record.
*Kingston Town with jockey Malcolm 'Miracle' Johnston. Image courtesy Odds Sniper.
Kingston Town was a superstar of his time. After failing to impress any buyers at the yearling sales, he was passed in for $8,000 and his breeder David Hains gave him to Tommy Smith to train. In his first race start as a two year old, 'The King' finished last and the decision was made to geld him. Following the operation, he had a six race winning run, including the Group One Spring Champion Stakes. He was dubbed the "Sydney Champion' as his ultra-consistent Sydney form did not always translate in his Melbourne runs.
Of his 40 race starts, he was only out of a top three placing three times. Eleven of his 30 wins were Group One races. As a three year old, he won the Rosehill Guineas, the Tancred Stakes, the AJC Derby and Sydney Cup. He followed this with two wins at Brisbane's winter carnival. Still yet to win a race in Melbourne, Kingston Town and jockey Malcolm Johnston took out the 1980 Cox Plate in fine form, winning by four lengths. This impressive season saw him awarded the 1980 Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year.
In the 1981 Cox Plate, Malcolm was suspended and so Ron Quinton took the ride. Stuck for a run, he managed to find an open lane and chased down Lawman and Binbinga to win by a length.
In 1982 a third jockey, Peter Cook, had the reins for the Cox Plate. With the King pocketed in seventh position before the turn, the race was made even more memorable by racecaller Bill Collins' famously incorrect statement that 'Kingston Town can't win'. But with wings on his feet, win he did! Despite the gaffe being well publicised, Greg Miles, who was also broadcasting the race, has admitted he had the same thought during the race.
In the three years he won the Cox Plate, he also won the '81 and '82 Caulfield Stakes but failed to win a Caulfield or Melbourne Cup. Following his '82 Melbourne Cup second placing, jockey Malcolm Johnston told reporters, "Everything went according to plan. Except getting beat by a neck. In our game, you win by a neck, you're a superstar. You get beat by a neck, you're a mug."
Jockey Malcolm 'Miracle' Johnston rode Kingston Town for 25 wins. When I started writing this piece, I realised that whilst Uncle Mal (he's actually my 2nd cousin, but that doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily!) has a lifetime of stories to tell, I've never asked him about riding the champion. Mal is probably as much of a champion as Kingston Town was. During his career, he won 3 Sydney apprentice premierships before taking out the senior jockeys title (still as an apprentice) with a record 107.5 wins. He rode over 2000 winners across 11 countries and had 12 Melbourne Cup rides - all this despite being sidelined by stewards more than 50 times!
In 1984, when his career was continually hampered by injury, the King was sent to race in America in the hope the tracks there would be nicer to his legs. He never made it to the track. He returned home and was then retired following a failed career resurrection. Whilst Kingston Town amassing $1.6 million in prizemoney, according to a Gai Waterhouse blog post, if he'd been racing for today's prizemoney, his total purse would be closer to $20 million!
An inaugural inductee to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, Kingston Town was unfortunately put down in March 1991 after sustaining a serious leg injury while playing with another horse in their paddock.
So can the current Queen of the Turf match the King's record on Saturday? Is she as good as he? Personally, I don't like comparing horse of different eras and Uncle Mal appears to be a little on the fence. “I think Winx is a freak, she is as good as Kingston Town,’’ Johnston recently said in an interview.
“As good as 'The King’ was and as tough as he was, I don’t know who would win between Winx and him. Winx is up there with the ‘black horse’ — and I’ve never said that about another horse against Kingston Town."
The Cox Plate is the race where legends are made. Saturday's race may only be a small field of nine, but with general admission ticketing now sold out, it will once again go down in the history books as another fantastic edition of one of Spring Carnival's most iconic battles. Will you be there to witness it?
*Narrated by Ken Callander, watch Kingston Town's three Cox Plate wins. Video courtesy YouTube.