06/13/2011 12:26PM

Animal Kingdom's Summer Schedule

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Say what you want about Barry Irwin, it is clear he is smart, and a realist.

Irwin, head of Team Valor International, which owns Animal Kingdom, said before Saturday’s Belmont Stakes that he was looking at running his Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner up on the turf this summer in either the Grade 1 Arlington Million or the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park. This was an intriguing plan. Animal Kingdom is already a major stakes winner on dirt, and a stakes winner on synthetic (he won the Spiral on Polytrack at Turfway Park prior to the Derby). The desire to also have him become a major stakes winner on grass harkens back to the old days when good horses actually proved what they could do on the track under a variety of conditions, not in media releases full of spin.

But then in the Belmont, Animal Kingdom was all but eliminated from contention only a couple of strides into the race when severely squeezed back. He actually did extremely well just to make that big run around the far turn while also racing against the grain of a speed-favoring track. But even if Animal Kingdom acquitted himself admirably under impossible circumstances Saturday, he still finished sixth. He still lost. The only good news for him is that Preakness winner Shackleford squandered an opportunity in the Belmont to take firm control of the 3-year-old division, tiring after setting the pace to finish fifth, thus leaving this division up for grabs.

The morning after the Belmont, Irwin had this to say about Animal Kingdom to the NYRA press staff: “We want to make this horse the champion. I really thought we were going to win the Belmont or at least run second. He’s probably the leader of the 3-year-old class right now, but he’s no cinch to be the champion, so I think we’re going to have to put him where he can solidify that. We’re going to have to take a look at the Travers.” Colleague Jay Privman has subsequently reported that the Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 30 is also in play for Animal Kingdom. The Haskell comes four weeks before the Travers, run at Saratoga on August 27. The Arlington Million and Secretariat fall right in between these two events, with those races set for August 13.

While it is always nice to see accomplished 3-year-olds square off in truly special races such as the Travers and Haskell, it is still a shame that what happened to Animal Kingdom in the Belmont is now forcing Irwin to re-think his colt's schedule. The idea to try the Kentucky Derby winner on grass, to give Animal Kingdom the opportunity to demonstrate his versatility, was (and this word sounds too quaint for the occasion) sporting. But it might have to be abandoned.

As an aside here, I actually think that if Animal Kingdom were to win the Arlington Million, it would be just as meaningful as a victory in the Travers or Haskell. The Secretariat? No, because that race is restricted to 3-year-olds. But a victory by Animal Kingdom in the Arlington Million would be noteworthy because, aside from the surface, it would mean he defeated older horses.

Irwin just can’t risk the chance that enough Eclipse Award voters will see the Arlington Million vis a vis the Travers and Haskell the way I do. And even if this whole thing comes down to the Breeders’ Cup Classic like it seems destined to, Irwin can’t risk Shackleford gaining divisional position on him by possibly winning the Haskell and/or Travers. So instead of trying something special this summer, I understand why Animal Kingdom probably has to take the more conventional route and stay on dirt. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s just not as interesting as things could have been.

hialeah More than 1 year ago
All this talk and it ends up the horse had a fairly serious injury. Shows to go you how much the "average" fan really "knows". read: Not Much! thanks for the forum (not LA or Roman , but drf).com
capt More than 1 year ago
Ak will wind up being a greater horse then most seem to think,time will tell and im tellin ya now! Dont give up on this horse he is still seeking whats the best kind of track to run on and I think he can run on all types that alot of horses cant do,Thanks!
Randy Zalman More than 1 year ago
I think he will make a outstanding turf horse
Steeplestakes More than 1 year ago
Blackseabass was watching a different Belmont Stakes than I was. The stewards got it right suspending Maragh 10 days for a blatent foul at the start.
Richard Berry More than 1 year ago
Lets get real with this thing AK would never have beeten nehro let alone win the belmont. Hes not any better than Shakleford. Neither one of thes horses can run mile and half thats been proven. That miss happ with AK didnt make any differance. Those two horses make good milers I would bet on them every time. But ther surley not tripple crown horses Frankel who i think is the best 3yr. old this year and i dont think he can run a mile and half.They need to change the rules to get a tripple crown horse the way there breeding horses today.
GC More than 1 year ago
If Animal Kingdom hits the board in the Million, I will walk from Arlington to Lexington. He is way too slow to take on more experienced older turf horses.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Mike, I would have liked to see Animal try the Million too. He would have certainly been up against it and, if he could win, it should be enough for any voter that wasn't in the bag for any alternative to him. He will be favored to win the Travers or Haskell so that won't be as impressive. What I saw was two HARD jerks that probably didn't feel good to AK's mouth and a horse that ducked his head and tried to dump the rider out of resentment for poor handling. I never saw a head on because the coverage was so lousy but the pan shot made it appear like the horse could have squeeZed through if given the opportunity by the rider. JV blamed everyone but himself just like the Preakness and just like the BC distaff. Saying you let your chance get taken away from you by two no-hopers at the start is the same thing as saying you're not a very capable rider IMO. I don't think Pat ValenZuela or Russel BaZe would have let this happen twice in a row. Perhaps I'm spoiled and expect to much from these riders. When the gate opened it appeared like Junior Varsity was looking to his left and not intent on getting away from there. I watched the legs on the replays I saw and didn't see any heels clipped. Perhaps when I'm able to see the head on I'll see heels clipped . It still won't make me change my opinion of JV or his agent . As an old baseball coach I call taking a called third strike "swallowing the olive" . JV is just that . He definetly doesn't belong on the Varsity.
Victor More than 1 year ago
Ok, plotting the best path to the championship for AK is great...... You're all forgetting something...... Astrology comes back and wins the Haskell/Travers, BC Classic path..... Now what ? or is it Now who ? Unless there's an injury problem that's not yet disclosed.........Astrology for my money.
Chuck S More than 1 year ago
I tend to agree with the comments regarding Velazquez, but really, hasn't everyone seen enough races to accept the fact that these horses do not always come out of the gate like trains on a track? Then we have to listen to Velazquez acting like he was some pre-meditated target? Please......
Kelso More than 1 year ago
I'm surprised that Irwin hasn't sold the horse for $20 million to international good-guy Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.
Michael D. More than 1 year ago
There is a solution to see both happen Run back in 5 weeks at Colonial Downs in G2-VA Derby (10f Turf, 600k) Then heat to Travers 6 Weeks Later G1-10f Dirt 1M
Steeplestakes More than 1 year ago
I aghad the same thought as Michael D: VA Derby & Travers is where I would run AK. The Haskell is too short for AK, who needs 10 furlongs or more to be at his best.
Steeplestakes More than 1 year ago
On the other hand, coming back in 5 weeks might be too soon after running in all 3 Triple Crown races. Motion maintains a barn at Saratoga, so maybe the better route would be to aim for the Travers and look for a 3-yr-old turf stake @ the Spa early in the meet like the Gr. II Hall of Fame Stakes, although the distance of that race may be too short. Maybe ask NYRA to put up a 10 furlong overnight turf stakes as a prep for the Travers..........