02/07/2013 3:03PM

Andrew Beyer: Animal Kingdom being given chance to make history

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Tom Keyser
The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom starts his 5-year-old campaign in Saturday's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After Animal Kingdom won the 2011 Kentucky Derby, he lost the Preakness, lost the Belmont Stakes, and sustained a leg fracture that put him on the sidelines. If he had followed the usual practice of the Thoroughbred industry, he would never have raced again.

One of the banes of the modern game is the eagerness of owners to retire the sport’s burgeoning stars after an injury, instead of giving them time to recover, so that they can quickly cash in on a horse’s value as a stallion. Of the last four colts to win the Derby, three were retired by September of their 3-year-old seasons. The exception was Animal Kingdom.

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He is owned by 20 investors in a syndicate formed by Team Valor, and they got into the game because they wanted the excitement of watching their horses run. Trainer Graham Motion, a man renowned for his patience, has always believed that Animal Kingdom is an exceptional talent and wanted to prove it. They’ve had a long wait. Animal Kingdom made an abortive comeback early in 2012 and suffered another injury. But at the age of 5 he is healthy and ready to embark on a three-race schedule that could establish him as one of the best Thoroughbreds in the world, and might even make history. His campaign will begin Saturday in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

The management of Animal Kingdom by Motion and Barry Irwin, the CEO of Team Valor, has been unconventional from the start. They sent their 3-year-old into the Kentucky Derby after he had made only four starts – three on synthetic surfaces, one on grass, and none on dirt. His lone stakes victory had come in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. The preparation appeared preposterous, but when Animal Kingdom rallied to win, Motion was rightly hailed as a training genius.

However, the horse’s performance was hardly one for the ages. He defeated a field that was average at best, and his speed figure was well below the norm for the Derby. If he had been retired after the Triple Crown, he would have been remembered as a one-race wonder like the gelding Mine That Bird in 2009 or Super Saver in 2010.

After Animal Kingdom recovered from his hock injury and returned to racing in early 2012, he suffered a stress fracture in his pelvis and was knocked out of action again. When he resumed training in mid-year, Motion hatched a plan that was even more audacious than his Derby venture. He decided to aim Animal Kingdom for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he would face some of the best turf milers in the world, even though he had won only a low-level race on the turf and he had never been viewed as a miler.

“A lot of people might have told me that I was crazy,” Motion said.

Even Irwin was dubious. But the trainer said: “I always felt that grass was his preferred surface. In his training he did things that I’ve never seen a horse do. That’s what gave me confidence.”

Animal Kingdom came into the Mile at Santa Anita after a 259-day layoff to face the leading candidate for Horse of the Year honors, Wise Dan, as well as high-class runners from Europe. If he won under these circumstances, Motion knew, “he’d go down in the history books.”

He didn’t – not quite. As Wise Dan surged to the lead on the final turn, Animal Kingdom found himself near the rail, in traffic, forcing jockey Rafael Bejarano to wait, and wait, and wait for room to run. When he the colt finally extricated himself and accelerated in the final furlong, announcer Trevor Denman called, “It’s Animal Kingdom like a rocket!” The rocket had launched too late, and Animal Kingdom finished second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Wise Dan. But the defeat was as ennobling as his Kentucky Derby victory. Animal Kingdom had proved beyond a doubt that he is a world-class talent, emboldening Irwin and Motion to plan the climactic phase of his career, one that will take the horse from the U.S. to Dubai to England to his future home in Australia.

Around the time of the Breeders’ Cup, Australia’s most prominent breeder, John Messara, expressed an interest in bringing Animal Kingdom to his Arrowfield Stud as a stallion. Irwin was interested in his overtures because he had long ago recognized that the horse is not a good commercial prospect in his homeland.

“He doesn’t have a pedigree to which Americans can relate,” Irwin said. “It’s just not fashionable.” (He is a son of a Brazilian-bred stallion, Leroidesanimaux, who was a grass champion in the U.S., and a German mare.)
But a Kentucky Derby winner who also excelled on turf would have enormous appeal in Australia, where all the racing is on grass. Irwin made the deal, selling a 75 percent interest in the prospective stallion, and Animal Kingdom will start his stud career in mid-September, when the Southern Hemisphere breeding season begins. He will subsequenty shuttle to the Northern Hemisphere for duty during its breeding season, in a country that Messara selects. (It probably won’t be the U.S.)

Because Animal Kingdom must be finished with racing before September, Irwin and Motion envision a three-race campaign that begins Saturday, when their horse races at Gulfstream Park against the formidable Point of Entry, winner of three Grade 1 stakes on the grass last year. This will be his prep for the world’s richest race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, run on Meydan Racecourse’s synthetic track on March 30. And then, if all goes well, Animal Kingdom would end his racing career in a stakes race at Royal Ascot in June. Few American-based runners ever try to win major races in Europe, and none has succeeded since Fourstars Allstar won an Irish classic in 1991. But Motion said: “I think it’s a very realistic goal. And, selfishly, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing. If ever a horse is going to do it, this is the horse.”

This is the kind of thinking that used to prevail in American racing, when owners ran their horses for the sake of sport and asked them to prove how good they might be. But in an era when so many 3-year-olds are prematurely retired, Animal Kingdom’s ambitious plans seem almost revolutionary.
(c) 2013, The Washington Post

Cris McHenka More than 1 year ago
Animal KIngdom is a unlucky talented horse who has had to come back because his investors wanted him back. If ever there was a horse that deserved to be retired it is Animal Kingdom. I wish him all the luck in the world and pray he makes it through three races without another fracture. May he have a long healthy life with the Aussie's.
Jim M More than 1 year ago
I wish Animal Kingdom would try the Durban July in South Africa as his last race. It seems a better fit than Ascot if he's going to be a Southern Hemisphere stallion anyway.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Why is it always the jockeys fault when the favorite gets beat. The first half went in 50 seconds, if he doesn't do anything and the pace doesn't collapse you all say he got sucked in to a slow pace. What choices did he really have? He just galloped along the first part and couldn't quicken with a horse bred for the distance and surface. Dynaformer's will get a mile and an eighth much more effectively than The Brazilian sire of Animal Kingdom who himself was a champion miler. The Team Valor group will say they didn't need to win today in order to go on to Dubai and they got their wish. Send him off to stud now and save the embarassment.
Michael Infurna More than 1 year ago
If this was indeed a prep, there was no need for a ride like that. Rushung up the rail into a slow pace with an ouchy horse off a layoff is NEVER a good idea. Doesn't matter if he was 3-5 or 30-1, the horse had no chance with that ride!!
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Is there a price for worst ride by a jockey? Rosario... what a complete fool you are.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Next excuse, blame the rider, what next time?
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
JR BLEW IT!!!...PERIOD...
Richard More than 1 year ago
Horrible horrible ride by Rosario. AK should have won easy. Take nothing away from POE though. Velasquez is just far superior rider.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
The better horse won the race with an adequate ride, end of story. Why should AK have won today? Point Of Entry still would have won regardless of the rider. When will you just realize the colt is what he is, a winner of the KY Derby, The Spiral a grade three and a couple of allowance wins and even an optional claimer. These racing lines hardly stamp him as the great champion you believe him to be, face the facts man.
Richard More than 1 year ago
As I said take nothing away from POE. Negative Posters such as yourself Bruce feel the need to assume things about others to try and prove some narcissistic point. You can sit here and knock all he horses you want, it does not change reality. AK is a very good horse who received a poor ride today. I am hardly the only person to have that opinion. Also, do you vote for the eclipse awards? Do you know what they are?Because the esteemed voters seemed to believe that he was the champion 3 year old of 2011. Enjoy horse racing Bruce. Don't spend all your time being a troll on drf.
Richard More than 1 year ago
Also, Rosario is a fine rider but even good jockeys give bad rides.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Hey Richard, thank-you for your reply. Most of the Animal Kingdom fans are quite irate with me this weekend which is not disturbing to me at all. I do not feel the need to offer you my credentials within the thoroughbred horse industry which I have been an active part of for over 40 years. I am guessing by your picture you are somewhere in your 20's perhaps early 30's. I have had the opportunity to witness a lot of things in racing over that time frame and although you refer to me as a Negative Poster, I prefer to think I am just a little bit more realistic when judging horse flesh. I must agree with you about one of your points, Animal Kingdom is a very good horse not a great horse just a very good one as his race record indicates. The great ones only come along periodically, not every year which the racing public expects. You sir need to come to grips with the facts that you are working with limited knowledge in a sport that is so much deeper than you can imagine. But I thank-you for reading my comments and expressing your opinions, enjoy your day at the races.
Richard More than 1 year ago
Again with the assumptions!
Michael Infurna More than 1 year ago
Since when did Joel Rosario start smoking crack?
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Still hasn't started, he is as sharp as always. Identified a slow pace and tried to do something about it. The horse couldn't stay with a better horse at this distance is all. The winner is a Dynaformer who will give you a much nicer turf runner over a mile tham Leroidswhatever will ever produce. Don't get down on Rosario, there wasn't any pace to chase and his choices were limited. What would you have done when obviously the winner was stronger in the stretch today?
Michael Pierre More than 1 year ago
I wonder what you're saying now.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Its sad to see that breeders in the us wont take a chance on a horse that if you actually get over the nationalistic biases.is actually very well bred much more so than others they embrace.being a 1/2 brother to a brasilian gri winner and out of a half sister to the dams of dansili,banks hill,cacique,champs elysses,intercontinental,heat haze and promising lead.all top class.add to that the fact that is sire leroidesanimaux was a turf monster who lost the breeders cup turf by nose to artie shiller despite well publicized foot issues before the race.he was considered the best turf horse in the states and one of the best anywhere at the time.he also has acatenango blood through is mare who was a graded stakes winner in Germany.Animal kingdom also proved himself on the track by winning the derby on dirt and then running extremely well in the breeders cup turf mile when closing fast after trouble to be beaten by wise dan.if American breeders cant support a horse like this then they are the ones that need help.
william More than 1 year ago
ascot is a right hand coarse
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
There will be no trips to Ascot or anywhere else after Dubai, if they make it that far.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Easy to write,but not easy to do. Lay on,MacDuff.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
"revolutionary"......hmmmm......can you spell derby ?