03/26/2013 2:03PM

Dubai World Cup: Animal Kingdom the picture of health

Andrew Watkins
Animal Kingdom worked an impressive three furlongs four days before his engagement in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Animal Kingdom is a tout. The horse cannot help himself. His coat is a rich chestnut, his physique sculpted and picturesque. And when Animal Kingdom is feeling good and doing well, he does not hide it out on the racetrack during morning training.

It was like that in the week leading up to the 2011 Kentucky Derby, which he won. It was like that in the week before the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile, where Animal Kingdom finished a troubled, closing second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan while making his first start in more than eight months. And it was like that Tuesday morning at Meydan in Dubai, where Animal Kingdom worked an impressive three furlongs four days before his engagement in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

[DUBAI WORLD CUP: Complete DRF coverage, live video from Meydan]

Jim Cornes, an unofficial track clocker who works with international shippers here, timed the work in 36.24 seconds, with Animal Kingdom finishing full of run and galloping out another furlong.

“I think it was just what we wanted,” said trainer Graham Motion, who arrived Monday night in Dubai. “To me, it looked like he was just open-galloping out there. It didn’t look like he was going that fast.”

Animal Kingdom’s work assuaged local onlookers curious what to make of Animal Kingdom’s behavior during his first two gallops at Meydan earlier this week. In them, Animal Kingdom ran with his head cocked far to the right. He pulled hard on his tie-down draw reins and did not seem to have his mind entirely on his business. But that is typical behavior.

“I’d have been worried if he wasn’t acting like that,” Motion said.

Once given permission to go faster, Animal Kingdom looked very much like a Kentucky Derby winner in Dubai with a real chance to become the first U.S.-based runner to win a World Cup at Meydan.

“The last couple days we’ve been sorting each other out, really. He’s actually a very nice horse to ride once you get to know him,” said Alice Clapham, who has become Animal Kingdom’s daily rider here, taking over from regular exercise rider David Nava, who did not travel to Dubai.

“Believe me, he’s a handful to ride,” Motion said. “David’s really the only one that’s ridden him, and he can make it look easier than it is.”

Animal Kingdom has not raced on a synthetic surface since he won the Spiral Stakes in his final start before the Derby, but Animal Kingdom is no stranger to the Tapeta surface used at Meydan, as he has gone regularly over a Tapeta surface at Motion’s base of operations, the Fair Hill training center in Maryland.

“He seems to like this track,” Clapham said. “He just glides over it.”

Motion said Animal Kingdom looked fitter than before his most recent start, a second-place finish Feb. 9 in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, a race intended strictly as a World Cup prep. In fact, Motion, while heartily knocking wood, said Animal Kingdom’s preparations have gone smoother the last half-year than during any period since his Triple Crown run. Animal Kingdom came out of the Belmont Stakes in June 2011 with a small fracture in his left hind leg, and a year ago, he was found to have a fractured pelvis after winning a Gulfstream turf allowance race that was supposed to lead him to a start in the 2012 World Cup. Now he is sound and healthy, but Animal Kingdom’s future nevertheless remains uncertain.

After Saturday night, Arrowfield Stud in Australia will assume a controlling interest in the 5-year-old horse from the Team Valor syndicate that has campaigned Animal Kingdom throughout his career, and plans for Animal Kingdom’s post-World Cup career remain extremely fluid.

“A lot depends on what happens Saturday night, I think,” Motion said.

What has been drawn out in pencil is further international intrigue, with Animal Kingdom tentatively booked to travel from Dubai to England on April 6, where he would take up residence at a training yard in Lambourn. Clapham, his new rider and an English native, would travel with him, and Motion would remain Animal Kingdom’s trainer, with one final race at Royal Ascot – either in the Queen Anne Stakes over one mile or the Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 1 1/4 miles – sending Animal Kingdom off to stud.

This week, though, there is only the looming tower of the World Cup. Animal Kingdom was to school Tuesday night in the Meydan saddling enclosure. Wednesday is to be a light day after Tuesday’s work, with regular gallops scheduled Thursday and Friday before Saturday night’s grand appearance.

“I just hope he handles everything the right way,” Motion said. “I just want him to have a fair chance to show what he can do.”