04/01/2013 3:38PM

Dubai World Cup: Animal Kingdom might end career at Royal Ascot after impressive victory

Andrew Watkins
Animal Kingdom’s two-length win in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup at Meydan pushed his career earnings to $8,387,500 from 11 starts.

In a way, the Dubai World Cup was a race Animal Kingdom needed to win.

Animal Kingdom had his victory in the Kentucky Derby and subsequently had performed in ways that suggested he could be a truly special horse. But suggestions do not in the end make reputations, and since his triumph in the 2011 Derby, Animal Kingdom had won a grand total of one race from five starts, that victory having come in a mere allowance race.

On Saturday night, in front of a packed house at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, Animal Kingdom stomped through the theoretical and into the actual, his two-length score over Red Cadeaux making him just the second Derby-winning victor of the World Cup and the first American-based horse to win the world’s richest race since the Cup was moved from Nad Al Sheba’s dirt track to the synthetic Tapeta surface at Meydan in 2010. The only other American to win a World Cup race during that span was Kinsale King, who captured the Golden Shaheen in 2010.

Now, Animal Kingdom has earned $8,387,500 during his 11-race career. He has his Derby win and Preakness second-place finish on dirt, an excellent runner-up showing behind Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf last year, and now a signature win on a synthetic surface.

“I mean, it felt a little bit like Kentucky Derby déjà vu,” trainer Graham Motion said just after touching down in the United States on Monday following his trip home from Dubai. “It’s a serious group of horses on an even greater scale, and the way he won even reminded me of the Derby.”

Motion said Animal Kingdom as of Monday morning appeared to have taken his race without any problems. Having cemented his place as one of the best horses in more than just his generation, Animal Kingdom might next attempt an even more historic feat – winning a major Group 1 race at the Royal Ascot meeting in late June.

That Animal Kingdom is going to England is certain: His flight from Dubai leaves Saturday, and Alice Clapham, who has become Animal Kingdom’s regular morning rider, will accompany him to trainer David Lanagan’s stables in Lambourn. Arrowfield Stud of Australia now owns a reported 75 percent stake in Animal Kingdom and will have the final say on his future, but Arrowfield principal John Messara has expressed a desire to see the horse compete at Ascot. Plans call for Animal Kingdom to retire to stud in Australia, probably after one more race, at most.

“It’s much easier to do the quarantine in England anyway,” Motion said. “If we think he’s doing well, we’ll go for the race.”

Should Animal Kingdom race at Royal Ascot, he’d be the first Kentucky Derby winner to do so since Omaha in 1936. There are two races for which he’ll be considered: the Queen Anne Stakes, a straight-course mile June 19, and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 1 1/4 miles June 20.

Somewhat lost in Animal Kingdom’s success was another poor showing by the rest of the American contingent.

In the World Cup, two-time Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta faded to 10th after setting the early pace, while Dullahan finished 11th. Breeders’ Cup Turf and Arlington Million winner Little Mike finished 11th in the $5 million Duty Free after setting the pace.

In the Golden Shaheen, BC Sprint winner Trinniberg struggled home in 11th, and Private Zone was ninth. Varsity finished sixth in the Al Quoz Sprint (the best American showing outside Animal Kingdom), and Great Attack was 11th, while Dice Flavor (eighth) and He’s Had Enough (11th) made no impact on the UAE Derby.

Bill Mott, trainer of Royal Delta, said his mare had come out of her disappointing race in good condition and was scheduled to ship to New York on Tuesday. Mott said Royal Delta’s schedule this summer would be similar to last year, when she raced in the Fleur de Lis Handicap, the Delaware Handicap, the Personal Ensign Handicap, the Beldame Invitational, and the BC Ladies’ Classic after finishing ninth in the World Cup.

“We just felt like she didn’t handle the track,” Mott said. “That’s the only excuse we can give her. It looked good to me when she headed down the backside, but Mike [Smith] told me later she was never handling the track at any point.”

Royal Delta traveled well over the Meydan main track in morning training, when the temperature still was cool, but after a hot day Saturday, the surface was sticky and slow, with riders as early as the first race on the card, for Arabians, describing the Tapeta as unusually testing. The night’s second race, the Godolphin Mile, went in a winning time of 1:39.97, the slowest in that race’s history.

“I was concerned after they ran the mile in 1:39 and 4.” Mott said. “I about threw up when I saw that time. I’m not convinced she couldn’t handle a synthetic surface that was tighter.”

The night featured strong performances from St Nicholas Abbey, the 2011 BC Turf winner, who broke through in the $5 million Sheema Classic after finishing second in the race’s 2012 edition. Sajjhaa ran yet another excellent race, her fourth straight, in capturing the Duty Free, one of two wins on the card for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

Trainer Mike de Kock also won a pair, with Shea Shea in the Al Quoz and Soft Falling Rain in the Godolphin Mile, and both those South African-bred horses could wind up at the Royal Ascot meet.

Motion, who was sending out his first World Cup runner, spent a week in Dubai with his wife, children, and parents and praised the entire experience as guided by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the World Cup’s brainchild and the ruler of Dubai.

“Standing in front of that grandstand after winning that race was unbelievable,” Motion said. “That’s an experience you’ll never forget.”