04/26/2013 11:05AM

Animal Kingdom to be ridden by Velazquez at Royal Ascot

Tom Keyser
Animal Kingdom will have a new rider for his final career start at Royal Ascot.

His familiarity with both the horse and the course have landed John Velazquez back on Animal Kingdom when the 5-year-old makes the final start of his career at Royal Ascot in June.

Velazquez, who rode Animal Kingdom to victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, replaces Joel Rosario, who guided Animal Kingdom to victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan on March 30.

Velazquez has not ridden Animal Kingdom since Feb. 2012 when he guided him to an allowance race victory at Gulfstream Park. Animal Kingdom was sidelined until last fall and when he returned in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita, Velazquez was committed to ride Wise Dan, who beat Animal Kingdom that day.

Velazquez was aboard Point of Entry when he beat Animal Kingdom in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 9.

Velazquez has ridden the last three years at Royal Ascot and in 2009 won a pair of five-furlong turf sprints for trainer Wesley Ward.

Velazquez has agreed to travel to England to breeze Animal Kingdom prior to his race at Royal Ascot.

“Johnny knows the horse better than any other rider and he has had success at Royal Ascot,” trainer Graham Motion said in a press release issued by Team Valor International, the syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom. “He won on a straightaway at Royal Ascot and if we decide to go in the [Group 1] Queen Anne Stakes on opening day up the straight, that experience figures to come in handy.”

Motion and Team Valor are deciding between the Queen Anne, a one-mile race, on opening day or the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on the second day of the Ascot meet.

However, in the press release Team Valor president Barry Irwin seemed to indicate the Queen Anne was the race of choice.

“No American jockey is riding better than Joel right now,” Irwin said. “We thought he gave a peerless performance in the World Cup. But we don’t think it would be fair for the jockey to ride him on a straightaway when neither jockey nor horse had done it before.

“Dropping from a mile and a quarter around turns on a synthetic track to running uphill on a straight course on grass is quite a transition for any horse, especially at this level. So the decision to go with a jockey that knows the horse and the course made the job easier. It was a difficult decision.”

Velazquez has missed the last three weeks due to a fractured rib suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on April 7. He is expected to return to race-riding on Wednesday at Belmont. He is scheduled to ride Dreaming of Julia in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks and Verrazano in the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Lise McLain More than 1 year ago
Hi! Why take Joel Rosario off Animal Kingdom? He did a great job with him in the Dubai World Cup. None of this makes any sense. Thank you! Lise from Maine
J.L. Boey More than 1 year ago
Handicapping is about statistics. Without JV, the horse's last 3 races were 2 losses to JV-ridden winners, and one win with no JV in the field. Statistics say give JV the mount, the connection's gut feelings also say JV. There we have it.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
????? What !!!!!
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Wow. All the elements of a story book ending. Great for Johnny V.
Tony Garrido More than 1 year ago
well, this is one of the most rare thing I have seen in horse racing, dropping a jockey of a horse that just won a 5milllion race with...but i guess, it wont be the end of world for JOEL ROSARIO, he will keep winning, hopefully ANIMAL KINGDOM win too...
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
It was a ten million dollar race and I agree, how do you fire a jock off a winning ride like that. Barry Irwin is a moron ! Never saw Johnny V setting any records like Joel Rosario, bad call Team Morons.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Hope A.K. does well in his final start. No question they are asking alot of him and sure would be nice to see him go out a winner. Don't understand jockey switch but I guess Team Valor wants to give every chance for A.K. to go out a winner and if a jockey switch is what they feel has to be done then a jockey switch it will be. Good luck A.K.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Smartest thing to do would be to have one of the leading riders in England handle the horse over a course they are familiar with. There are some excellent riders on that side of the pond that would probably deliver as good a ride as Velazquez will. Good luck to the horse here's hoping you go out on top.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Would be amazing if he wins any of the races on the menu there to end his career. Wonderful horse will make a fine daddy in the shed.
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
The straight mile indeed, just an hill
wolves More than 1 year ago
should have gone with a UK expert, Hugh-Z (as the oil-slick salemen such as Cattermole and Thompson call him) or if he is not available, Moore....but definitely NOT Spencer, Fallon, Queally or Turner.....they are garbage
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
I think the choice to go with Johnny V is a good one. AK will give of his best. I hope he wins. Farewell AK.
Steven Simonovic More than 1 year ago
Straight? No turns? Am I missing something?
Philip C More than 1 year ago
I believe the Queen Anne is a straight mile race with zero turns.
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
No; you are not missing anything. Uphill, downhill, but no turns.