It was a unique concept: wedding guest as wedding gift. But when Arch Kingsley and Wendy Fletcher married in the paddock at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C., in 2000, Hudson Bay was both.
Spend maybe five minutes talking with Kingsley about the 23-year-old gelding, and you’ll wonder why Hudson Bay wasn’t Best Man. The deep bond between the two endures, 17 years after he first rode the horse over hurdles in an optional claimer at Strawberry Hill in 1996. Today at the Kingsleys’ Long Leaf Farm in Camden, Hudson Bay is business partner, babysitter to young trainees and trusted caretaker of the Kingsleys’ 7-year-old daughter Taylor.
Hudson Bay was actually circling in the Kingsleys’ orbit well before they knew who he was. In the early 1990s, Wendy galloped horses for Mickey Preger Jr. She received a phone call from trainer Jack Fisher–whom she didn’t know at the time–asking if she’d be willing to go try a horse for him and provide an assessment.
“Jack wanted someone to go over and try this horse that Toby Edwards was training; he wanted an unbiased opinion of the horse. And Hudson was the horse,” Wendy said. “He was probably 4 at the time. I rode him and loved him. Jack did not end up buying him; Bill Lickle did, and then Arch ended up riding for the Lickles.”
Bill and Renee Lickle obtained Hudson Bay from owner Dale Thiel and trainer/rider Edwards. By top steeplechase sire Northern Baby from the Holy War mare Metrica, the dark bay was bred in Kentucky by Hi-Rock Stables. He had a nondescript career on the flat for two seasons, winning only a maiden special at Churchill Downs in his second start. He was immediately more successful over hurdles, claiming his first score for Thiel and Edwards at the Hard Scuffle meet in Kentucky in 1995. Lickle acquired him off that win and sent him to the barn of Ricky Hendriks.
Hudson Bay was piloted primarily by Chip Miller and Simon Hobson during the first year with Hendriks, but Kingsley clicked with him. “He was probably the first good hurdle horse that I rode,” Arch said. “He was my first winner at Saratoga. He and I had some really high moments together.”
Arch’s friend Will Phipps, former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, thinks that’s a conservative statement. Phipps and Kingsley met as teenagers at The Blue Ridge School in St. George, Va., lost touch afterward but crossed paths again several years later when both were working in Saratoga. “Hudson has been a horse of dreams. He helped Arch achieve champion status as a jockey.”
Arch took it from there. “It started when I was a bug boy over hurdles and (Hudson) pretty much carried me halfway through my career. He was not the best horse I rode but certainly the most honest and most valiant on the racecourse. Such a warrior. He tried so hard; he would put himself at the Grade 1 level just by pure heart, not necessarily ability. He was a very efficient jumper, but at the stakes level there were always one or two that were going to be better.”
One career highlight came in the Carolina Cup-NSA1 at Camden in April 1997. On that day, the only competitor better than Hudson Bay was the legendary Lonesome Glory. “That was one of my favorite races that I ever rode. Lonesome Glory won it and we were second. But right up until the last 50 yards, we were duking it out with Lonesome. That was just a classic example of the kind of horse Hudson was, just through his try and through his jump. He was making Lonesome Glory bring his ‘A Game’ to beat him.”
Hudson Bay earned a reputation not only for his grit and guts on the track, but also for a post-race condition which caused his connections a great deal of anxiety. He struggled with heat stroke after some races, but always managed to bounce back to health.
“You expected him to maybe sour to it because he knew that was coming, or start protecting himself. But he never did,” Arch said. “I mean, he defied his ability level, and it seemed like he cheated death every time he went into heat stroke. It was very scary and dramatic. You’d think oh this is it; it’s over. But he’d come back every time, very forward and positive and willing to go on again.”
Hudson Bay made his last start at Saratoga in 2000 at 10. Rather than have him drop down in class, the Lickles decided to retire him with a record of 55-7-18-6 and earnings of $259,243. Presenting him as a wedding gift was a complete surprise to the bride and groom. He’s been with them every step of the way as they’ve literally carved their family homestead out of the picturesque Carolina pines.
As Phipps explained, “They built him a small paddock and he was the first horse there. There was nothing on the property but the house and trees. Over the past 13 years, every time I stopped through on the way back from Florida to New York, I would see these little changes coming along. Hudson’s paddock turned into the beautiful barn you see now.”
Even in retirement, Hudson Bay never lets down Kinglsey. “Everything we’ve ever done with him since then–it’s like ‘OK, what am I? Am I a track pony? OK, I’m the best damn track pony you’ve ever seen!’ And he’ll be an absolute champ at that.”
And it’s firmly believed that, if asked, Hudson Bay would strap on his armor again. “If I gave him the talk and said ‘You’re going back into training and we’re going back to Saratoga,’ he’d be like ‘I’m in, man, let’s do it.’ At 23, there wouldn’t be an ounce of him that would say ‘I can’t.’?”
When Phipps left Mott’s employ a few years ago to begin training on his own, the Kingsleys sent Hudson Bay to Sara-toga to serve as stable pony. Phipps had a seasoned pro as his workmate, and Hudson Bay was again in the surroundings he had so dearly loved. It was win/win all the way around.
With 10,000 protected acres of hunt country backing their property, the Kingsleys are able to hack fledgling prospects out as needed. Hudson Bay usually accompanies, whether to quiet down an insecure youngster or give a lead over a jump.
Arch willingly risks sounding cheesy when talking about his old friend. “He gives you the impression that he’ll live forever. I’ve got man-love for him for sure,” he laughed. “Hudson’s even made growing old look good. He’s embraced this stage of his life like’s he done every other thing, with complete style and class.”
For his part, Hudson Bay exudes an almost-palpable sense of gratitude. His love for Arch, Wendy and Taylor is obvious. This horse could not be more a member of the family if he pulled up a chair to the dinner table.
Phipps wrapped it up perfectly. “He’s brought so many people a lot of joy and is so important to that family. I knew I was loved and respected when Arch sent Hudson to Saratoga for me to use. It was a really special gesture.”