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Rhode Island

Back-of-Van Ride to Victory for Trainer Kirby in Claiming Crown


When coach Tom Van Berg received two Claiming Crown races together with his first horses in the sequence on Saturday, most racers made the connection to his father, the late Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Van Berg. But a connection to one other household legacy in this sequence might not have been so apparent: John Timothy Kirby, 25, who additionally saddled his first Claiming Crown starter to a win in his very first race at Churchill Downs, is a 3rd era rider with robust Roots that run deep in New England.

In reality, after greater than half a century of breeding and racing Massachusetts breeds, the Kirby clan managed to outlast all thoroughbred races in their dwelling area. That meant the youngest coach in the household, even earlier than Suffolk Downs lastly retired in 2019, took to the streets and relocated to Parx, Pennsylvania to pursue his commerce.

The Claiming Crown likes to refer to itself because the “Worker Breeders’ Cup,” and that is a fairly truthful analogy. But what number of coaches nationally are keen to take their solely competitor for this occasion for a 675-mile van experience in the trailer like Kirby did Hero Tiger (Hero of Order), the 4-1 winner of the $100,000 Ready’s Rocket Express?

“I drove in the back. I just wanted to make sure he delivered well and everything,” Kirby advised Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) video correspondent Dani Gibson after the win.

“Bobby Mosco’s horse was there too,” Kirby added, referring to it out of tune (Dramedy), the 10-length winner of the $150,000 tiara, who accomplished a Parx-based double in a Claiming Crown in any other case swept by dwelling monitor Kentuckians.

“Everything went so easily and the celebs aligned. We had been simply so fortunate,” Kirby stated.

Perseverance and a horse-first work ethic nurtured by three generations did not damage both.

John T.’s grandfather, John F. Kirby, had been concerned with horses all through his childhood, and he started coaching Thoroughbreds in 1953 when New England racing consisted of rugged circuits in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine a summer season and fall listing of regional festivals.

Kirby started breeding Thoroughbreds in 1967 at his Smokey Valley farm in Dover, about half an hour southwest of Suffolk Downs, and he had already established a small group of broodmares by the point Massachusetts started offering cash to state-bred purses in 1972.

After coaching for exterior purchasers for greater than twenty years, in 1975 the elder Kirby restricted himself to specializing in his homegrown racehorses. When state-bred stakes had been added to the Massachusetts-bred program in 1981, at the very least one horse raised in Kirby would win at the very least a kind of stakes every year for a streak that lasted three a long time.

The horses sporting the household’s inexperienced and white trefoil silks had been identified for their longevity and solidity. A foal out of Kirby’s 1968 crop named Brik (‘Kirb’ backwards) received 23 races from 184 begins.

The household was additionally hardy, and though they weren’t entrance runners in Suffolk, they had been extensively revered for their horsemanship. In 1985, John F. Kirby stated in a Boston globe Profile that between the farm and the circuit, the work schedule was “seven days a week, from dawn to exhaustion.”

Timothy Kirby, the daddy of John T., started coaching in 1991 and nonetheless has a small secure at Parx. Patriarch John F. Kirby stop coaching in 1999 and died in 2011. The household’s as soon as 40-acre farm shrank to items as horses left the property and the New England breeding horse enterprise dried up and disappeared.

The youngest Kirby, in a 2019 interview with PTHA’s Dick Jerardi, recalled how as a highschool scholar he was typically reprimanded for a racing kind hidden in his folder.

“If we had a horse race, I’d probably be on the track and not in the classroom,” stated John T. Kirby.

But Kirby was skilled in different, extra significant methods. Just as vital as race outcomes, he realized from his father and grandfather, was what occurred after the end.

“We’ve always had mass breds,” Kirby stated in that PTHA report. “They handled us effectively. We principally saved them once they had been completed and allow them to dwell out on the farm till outdated age.”

On a harsh, unseasonably snowy Saturday in Churchill that should certainly have introduced again recollections for Kirby of the bygone, brutal days of winter racing in Suffolk, there was a second on the finish of the house straight that made it seem like Hero Tiger, though it filled with racing could be knocked out of rivalry as a result of a slender hole aimed for by jockey Luis Saez become a wall of horse meat earlier than the 6-year-old gelding may smash by.

“Honestly, when that gap closed up round him, I believed he misplaced his momentum. But Luis rode him actually arduous and received his momentum again on monitor, and this horse simply has the most important coronary heart – the most important coronary heart,” Kirby stated, his voice momentarily breaking with emotion after the highest-profile win of his profession.

With restricted provides, Kirby has received 14 races from 98 begins this yr and got here onto the board with a forty five% clip whereas competing primarily at Parx, Delaware and Penn National. But he is no stranger to New York, the place he received a race every at Saratoga and Belmont in 2021 and 22. The most up-to-date win was a 21-1 pleasure in June with a $45,000 peater blitzing six stadia in a fast 1:07.34.

Back on Sept. 4, Kirby dropped a $40,000 declare on Hero Tiger on the spa on behalf of proprietor Gregg O’Donnell, and Saturday’s crown revenue declare netted $56,000 for that funding.

Rather than incomes any credit score, Kirby complimented his jockey in a post-race interview whereas brimming with enthusiasm for greater and higher issues to come.

“The first horse we ever fielded [Saez] further, he won at Saratoga. And then earlier this year she [nearly] broke the course record at Belmont,” Kirby stated. “So we’re 3 towards 5 with Luis and that is only the start. We’ll get him much more mounts.”

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