As York’s Ebor meeting approaches so too does the Nunthorpe Stakes, a Group One five-furlong sprint down the Knavesmire that attracts the swiftest horses in training.
In 2007 John Best’s Kingsgate Native proved himself to be the quickest of them all, a first success in a career that would see him rise to the top of the sprint division, change hands for over £1million and then end his career patiently teaching the young students of the sport at the British Racing School.
The son of Mujadil began life at the Kent base of Best and made an instant impact on his debut performance when finishing second by just a head in the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Such a high-profile introduction to the track was not Best’s initial plan, but rather the result of Kingsgate Native’s maiden run having been forgone due to the adverse weather conditions at the time.
As a result the then two-year-old arrived at the Royal meeting having never stepped on a track before, but he was evidently unhindered by his lack of experience as he ran valiantly to finish second by just a head.
“He was due to run a couple of weeks before and the meeting was abandoned,” Best explained.
“It wasn’t by design, I’d like to say I was being clever but I wasn’t!
“We were planning on running him at York about three weeks before Ascot, but that was called off and it was too close to the race to think about running elsewhere.
“So I made the decision with the owner that we should just wait and take our chance, we knew he was pretty good but I didn’t quite know he was that good.”
His next visit to a racecourse returned the same result, this time in the Group Three Molecomb Stakes at Glorious Goodwood where he was the runner-up by a neck.
A steep step up in grade followed as the bay then took on the Nunthorpe, this time triumphing by a length and a half to shed his maiden tag in a Group One contest.
“I think he’s one of the few maidens that have won a Group One,” Best said.
“It was a great day and he gave us a few others as well.
“That was his third race but he probably should have won both of his first two races. He was unlucky because at Ascot he was drawn on the wrong side and at Goodwood he was again drawn on the wrong side and he ended up switching halfway.
“I think if he hadn’t had to switch he would have won that as well. Coming into the Nunthorpe, if things had gone our way, he would have been unbeaten.”
Another tilt at Group One glory followed in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp that October, where the colt ran admirably once again to finish second.
“The ground was very soft that day and I think he just slightly missed the kick, if he’d jumped a little bit sharper and the ground was a little bit better he could probably have won that as well,” said Best.
“When you’re running at that sort of level you do need a little bit of luck, fortunately the race that was probably the most important was the Nunthorpe.”
The following year Kingsgate Native began his campaign in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he was 10th of 13 runners, but he bounced back to form just four days later to take the Group One Golden Jubilee Stakes, a race that has been known as the Diamond Jubilee since 2012.
“As a three-year-old he was in the King’s Stand and I probably had him a bit too fresh that day and he just did a little bit too much early on,” said Best.
“After a discussion with John Mayne (owner) and the Thompsons of Cheveley Park (future owners), we decided we would let him take his chance in the Jubilee, which of course he won,” said Best.
“Luckily everyone was in agreement that we should just try it, so that’s how it was.”
There were then two visits to the July Course at Newmarket before the end the season, once for the July Cup, where Kingsgate Native finished fifth, and again for the defence of his Nunthorpe title as the race had been relocated from the Knavesmire due to waterlogging.
He was third in the latter race, but was beaten by just a length and a half on both occasions and was rated 120 when bowing out at the end of the campaign to head to stud.
Sold to Cheveley Park for £1.1 million, Kingsgate Native sadly proved to be completely infertile and therefore never made a stallion, instead heading back into training where he was gelded and went on to win both the Group Three King George Stakes and the Group Two Temple Stakes for Sir Michael Stoute – and then the Temple again in 2013 for Robert Cowell.
“I just wish he’d been fertile,” Best said.
“That’s one thing that’s upsetting from my point of view because I would have loved to have created a stallion.
“However, he was just a very special horse and I was very lucky to have him for the time I did.”
Upon retirement from racing in 2016, Kingsgate Native found himself a home at the British Racing School in Newmarket and remains there to this day, now aged 16, helping the upcoming generations of stable staff and jockeys learn their trade.
“He’s an absolute superstar and he knows it,” said Alison Harper, yard instructor at the British Racing School.
“He loves attention and he loves people. When they use him for the best turned out (competition), he comes out very proud of himself and prances around the yard.
“He’s a very good ride too, he didn’t have a reputation for being a good ride when he came to us but he’s just a bit cheeky, he’s a real asset to the school.
“The students are very proud to ride him, they go and tell their parents that they’ve just ridden Kingsgate Native.
“All the staff at Cheveley Park love him too. The stallion man who looked after him pops over to see him sometimes, as does Chris Richardson (managing director of the stud).
“He’s always going to have a home, they didn’t want him to be retired and just go out in a field and be bored, so he’s here and then when he’s done his job with us he’ll go back to Cheveley Park again.
“He is so popular because he’s just such a nice character, a lovely horse.”