03/31/2013 12:42AM

Moonrise Kingdom


For those who were confused by the mixed message sent when the strains of the Australian national anthem could be heard on Saturday in the warm desert night, played in tribute to Animal Kingdom's victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, be comforted that you were not alone. Still, it's a catchy tune, and here are the words so when they play it again you can sing along:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts,
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page let every stage,
Advance Australia Fair!

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair!

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with heart and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours,
Renowned through all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas,
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine to
Advance Australia Fair!

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair!

Yes, I know, there's nothing of the martial majesty of the "Star Spangled Banner" (not to be confused with the Australian-bred sprinter Starspangledbanner who finished 14th on Saturday in the Al Quoz Sprint). Toiling with hearts and hands hardly stacks up against the cinematic images unleashed by lines like "twilight's last gleaming" and "rockets red glare," which I believe are also the titles of Tom Clancy novels. Sharing boundless plains sounds vaguely socialist, and what's that rubbing it in about being "young and free." They trying to suggest America is a mature nation? As in old?

It is a peculiar conceit of the American sports psyche that we should be able to conquer any game that we try. That is why the previous three World Cups had been so frustrating, watching such admirable American runners as Gio Ponti, Game on Dude and Royal Delta sink like stones in the desert. By winning for the American-based Team Valor syndicate and his new Australian owners, Animal Kingdom did not do anything the American-trained World Cup winners Cigar, Silver Charm, Captain Steve, Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May, Invasor, Curlin or Well Armed didn't do. But he did it in the face of rampant pessimism, of the thinking that it might never happen again.

Make what you will of the lasix issue and the difference between foreign and domestic rules, but do not expect dramatic conclusions to be taken seriously. Animal Kingdom ran a remarkable race without lasix against horses who were not using lasix, just as he ran remarkable races in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Breeders' Cup Mile while using lasix and running against horses who were using lasix.

So while nothing was proven in terms of medication, there still can be lessons learned. Clearly, training on a synthetic Tapeta surface to race on Meydan's Tapeta surface seems to make the difference in an American racehorse being able to show its true class. American trainers who have tried taking horses back and forth between dirt and synthetic surfaces will testify to the fact that muscle modeling plays a significant role in how they do. It is no fluke that the only other American horse to win a World Cup program race during the Tapeta era was Kinsale King, a very nice sprinter on dirt who trained for nearly two months on a Tapeta surface before winning the 2010 Golden Shaheen.

When he was not recuperating from his unlucky injuries, Animal Kingdom trained for most of the last two years on a Tapeta surface at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. When Graham Motion took him to Florida this winter, Animal Kingdom did all of his serious speed work on the Palm Meadows turf, which did nothing to change his Tapeta programming. Royal Delta, on the other hand, trained on dirt at Payson Park, while Dullahan trained on dirt at Gulfstream Park. Well backed and well meant, they finished 10th and 11th in the World Cup.

In the end, the reason Animal Kingdom separated himself so conclusively from the rest of the World Cup runners -- save the relentless stayer Red Cadeaux -- is because he is without a doubt the most superbly versatile Thoroughbred to emerge from American racing since Ack Ack, whose 1971 Horse of the Year campaign included wins on turf and dirt, from 5 1/2 to 10 furlongs, under weights as high as 134 pounds. Barry Irwin, the CEO of Team Valor, had a front row seat for Charlie Whittingham's work with Ack Ack and was deeply imprinted with the conviction that you could dare to ask questions of some horses that most horses could not answer.

Animal Kingdom will be off to Australia for stud duty this summer, but the dreary details of commerce should not in any way dull the satisfaction of his performance. Thoroughbreds are an international commodity, in play all the time, and anyway it's a little bit late for sentimentalists to wax patriotic about keeping the best American runners in the U.S. for procreative purposes. That ship sailed 23 years ago, when Sunday Silence ended up in Japan. So cue the Aussie anthem for Animal Kingdom, now owned by Arrowfield Stud in Aberdeen, north of Sydney. He'll be standing there alongside Gio Ponti, a three-time Eclipse champion, as well as a pretty good Australian miler by the name of All American.