01/05/2012 1:49PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Animal Kingdom

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It was not until exactly seven days before the Kentucky Derby that Animal Kingdom was signed, sealed, and delivered for the race. His performance in a workout over the Churchill Downs strip would determine whether he was going to make his first start on dirt, having raced on turf or Polytrack to that point. Animal Kingdom worked sharply that morning, and it turned out to be a preview. Despite being sent off at 20-1 in the Derby, owing to apprehension over his aptitude on dirt, Animal Kingdom won like a 2-1 shot, scoring an emphatic 2 3/4-length victory under John Velazquez that was so impressive he was favored in the next two legs of the Triple Crown.

Animal Kingdom subsequently finished second in the Preakness Stakes, then was sixth in the Belmont Stakes. His performance in the Belmont Stakes was compromised by a rough start, which led to an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of 2011. But Animal Kingdom left such a strong impression the first half of the year by winning the biggest race for 3-year-olds that he is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

Barry Irwin, head of the Team Valor International syndicate which owns Animal Kingdom, has his fingerprints all over the horse. A Team Valor partnership bred Animal Kingdom, Irwin having sent the Acatenango mare Dalicia to the sire Leroidesanimaux. That partnership sold Animal Kingdom as a yearling at Keeneland in September of 2009, and Irwin purchased the colt for $100,000. According to Irwin, some of the original partners stayed in, and some preferred to be bought out.

After a pair of starts at age 2, Animal Kingdom made his 3-year-old debut on March 3 at Gulfstream Park in a first-level allowance race on the turf in which he broke poorly and then finished well to just miss.

That set him up for the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes 23 days later at Turfway Park, a race that Animal Kingdom won easily on Polytrack, cruising home 2 3/4 lengths best.

Then came the decision to run in the Derby. Whatever apprehension Irwin and trainer Graham Motion had was alleviated following that pivotal workout, which Daily Racing Form timed in 1:13.17 for six furlongs.

“I don’t think he could have done any better,” Motion said afterward. “I thought he would handle it. I’d have been surprised and disappointed if he did not. He’s a very good workhorse.”

Irwin had an inkling Animal Kingdom would handle the dirt. “He was at Adena Springs as a 2-year-old with Randy Bradshaw, and he worked five or six times there,” Irwin said. “I called Randy up and he said he worked great on the dirt there. Here’s a horse who’s bred 1,000 percent for turf. Some of this is luck.”

A few weeks after the Belmont, Animal Kingdom required surgery to repair a fracture in his left hind leg. He went back into training late in 2011 at Fair Hill in Maryland, then was sent to Palm Meadows in Florida to prepare for his 2012 campaign.

In late December, Irwin said if all went well, Animal Kingdom would be pointed to the Dubai World Cup, with a prep in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

 

Date Track Race Finish Chart Distance Time BSF Video
6/11/11 BEL Belmont Stakes 6th 1 1/2 mile 2:30.88 89 Video
5/21/11 PIM Preakness 2nd 1 3/16 mile 1:56.40 103 Video
5/7/11 CD Kentucky Derby 1st 1 1/4 mile 2:02.00 103 Video
3/26/11 TP Spiral 1st 1 1/8 Mile 1:52.20 93 Video

Animal Kingdom

Owner: Team Valor International
Trainer: H. Graham Motion
Record: 7-3-3-0
Best Beyer: 103
Breeder: Team Valor
Tomlinson Distance Rating: 365*

Auction: $100,000 yearling (Keeneland, September 2009)
Dosage Profile: 2-0-6-0-0 (8)
Dosage Index: 1.67
Center of Distribution: 0.50

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