Updated on 06/07/2011 10:10AM

Belmont Stakes: Animal Kingdom arrives, gallops at Belmont


Animal Kingdom pulls into Belmont and is taken to his stall Sunday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom got his initial feel for Belmont Park’s main track with a 1 1/2-mile gallop Sunday morning, a little more than an hour following a three-hour van ride from the Fair Hill training center in northeast Maryland.

Animal Kingdom came onto the track shortly after 9 a.m. and was accompanied by a stable pony, which was ridden by David Rock, assistant to trainer Graham Motion. Animal Kingdom entered the track at the 1 1/8-mile entrance – where the training track meets the main track – and galloped an easy lap around the main track under exercise rider David Nava.

“He went nice,” Rock said.

Sunday’s gallop was in advance of a scheduled workout Monday morning over the main track.

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Animal Kingdom looks to have held his weight extremely well, despite having two hard races in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

“After the Preakness, he did get a little ribby looking, but he put it all back and more,” Rock said. “He’s put on some weight the last week or so. He looks great.”

Barry Irwin, head of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, was at Belmont on Sunday morning to watch his charge train. He said he hadn’t seen Animal Kingdom in about a week and was impressed with how well the horse looked.

“He’s a lot fitter looking behind the saddle than he was before,” Irwin said. “His girth, he’s carrying such a great amount of weight for a horse that’s had this kind of hard racing; it’s hard to believe looking at him. Most horses that are in this grind, they’re showing signs of wear and tear, and this horse looks like a fresh horse still. He’s still a pretty eager horse.”

Irwin said it was “a community decision” to bring Animal Kingdom here early to train.

“I wanted to do it, Johnny Velazquez did, I think Graham realizes the importance of it,” Irwin said. “It’s a funny track, it’s a different track, it’s bigger, its wider, it’s longer. The lead changes are different, the surface is different, it’s looser, it’s like a beach.

“This is going to be the most important race of this horse’s career, we want to take our best hold, and the biggest edge you can have is a race over the track,” Irwin added. “We couldn’t get that, at least we can get a work over the track.”