01/11/2013 3:57PM

Aqueduct: Dominguez excited about riding Animal Kingdom in Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom will have a new rider, Ramon Dominguez, for the Feb. 9 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Ramon Dominguez will head to Gulfstream Park next weekend where he most likely will accept his third straight Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding jockey.

But it is a trip to Gulfstream on Feb. 9 that Dominguez may be even more excited about.

Dominguez will ride Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner in the Grade 1, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Amazingly, Dominguez will become the seventh jockey to ride Animal Kingdom in what will be the colt’s 10th career start.

“Very much so,” Dominguez said Friday morning when asked if he was looking forward to riding Animal Kingdom. “It looks like he performs well on any surface. He really hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Dominguez takes over from Rafael Bejarano, who rode Animal Kingdom to a second-place finish to leading Horse of the Year candidate Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. That was Animal Kingdom’s first start off a near nine-month layoff.

Trainer Graham Motion said Dominguez was his first choice to replace John Velazquez, who was committed to Wise Dan for the Mile. Dominguez had made a commitment to ride Little Mike in the Mile and Motion had secured Bejarano before Little Mike was re-routed to the Turf, which he won under Dominguez.

Velazquez is committed to ride Point of Entry in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

“No secret, Ramon is one of the top riders if not the top rider in the country,” Motion said. “I certainly have a rapport with him. I’m very comfortable with him. There’s nothing clever about it.”

Dominguez is closing in 5,000 victories. He won two races at Aqueduct on Friday and now has 4,978 in his career.

Motion did say that he only has a one-race commitment from Dominguez. Motion is using the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap as a stepping-stone for Animal Kingdom to the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 30.

Coincidentally, Little Mike is headed to Dubai and will run once over Meydan’s synthetic surface to determine whether he would be a candidate for the World Cup or be kept on the turf for a race such as the $5 million Sheema Classic at 1 1/2 miles or the $5 million Duty Free at 1 1/8 miles.