02/16/2012 3:57PM

Gulfstream: Animal Kingdom gets new year going

Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom has not raced since last spring's Belmont Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.- Animal Kingdom used an allowance race on the turf at Gulfstream Park last winter as a stepping-stone to his victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and trainer Graham Motion has selected a higher-level optional claiming/allowance race over the grass here Saturday as his one and only prep for an even bigger payday six weeks down the road in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Animal Kingdom, the 3-year-old champion in 2011, has not started since finishing a troubled sixth in the Belmont Stakes on June 11. A son of Leroidesanimaux owned by Team Valor International, Animal Kingdom launched his 3-year-old campaign finishing second behind Powhatan County under first-level allowance conditions on the grass here last March. He will face just five rivals when he launches his comeback in Saturday’s third race, including the Grade 3 placed Midnight Mischief and Monument Hill who, like Powhatan County, is trained by George Weaver.

Animal Kingdom was sidelined after the Belmont because of a fractured hock. He returned to training early this winter at Motion’s main base at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland before shipping to Palm Meadows in Florida in mid-January. Animal Kingdom has had five recorded works since arriving in south Florida, all over the turf course at Palm Meadows.

Motion had originally earmarked the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes, also on the grass, at Tampa Bay Downs for Animal Kingdom’s 2012 debut on Feb. 25 before calling an audible when it became apparent Saturday’s allowance race would fill.

“If I waited until next week to run and they got a lot of rain at Tampa and the track came up a bog it would have put us in a very awkward position, because we’d have no backup plan,” said Motion. “Six weeks is really the optimum time for his prep prior to the World Cup. I would have liked to have gotten one more work in him, but I think he’s done enough and is tight enough for this race. Our main goal Saturday is to give him a prep and get him ready for the race in Dubai but I would be disappointed if he doesn’t run very well in this race.”

Midnight Mischief, runner-up in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 River City Handicap in November of 2010, has not started since finishing second under high-priced optional claiming and conditions over the Keeneland Polytrack last April.

Monument Hill won a pair of turf races here in January and has never finished worse than second in five starts over the local course.

“Animal Kingdom is an awfully nice horse,” said Weaver. “But I didn’t have another particular spot picked out for Monument, so when the racing office said they were trying to make a race for Animal Kingdom I said why not put him in there. I don’t know if my horse is good enough to knock off the champ, but if he’s ever going to do it, it would be Saturday off the layoff.”