Updated on 02/17/2012 4:33PM

Gulfstream: Animal Kingdom to return Saturday in turf allowance

Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom has been training at Palm Meadows for his 2012 debut.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Last year it was Uncle Mo. This winter it will be Animal Kingdom who will use a race at Gulfstream Park as a prep for his first major goal of the season when Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old male, launches his 2012 campaign in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming and allowance event over the turf here Saturday. Trainer Graham Motion is pointing Animal Kingdom for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.

Motion had originally penciled in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 25 for Animal Kingdom's return but opted to push his comeback up one week for several reasons.

"Gulfstream management was anxious to have him run there and they have been extremely accommodating and a huge help with his training at Palm Meadows," said Motion.

Animal Kingdom had been granted special permission to train over the Palm Meadows turf course on a couple of occasions during the course of the winter.

"We wouldn't have gotten where we are now with him without their help and I felt some gratitude when it came to making a decision regarding his return," said Motion. "I also believe that having a race six weeks out from the World Cup instead of five is the optimum time for a prep.  Also, if I waited until next week to run at Tampa and they got a lot of rain and the course was a bog, I had no backup plan and it could have put us in a very awkward situation."

Animal Kingdom will face five rivals in Saturday's fifth race while making his first start since finishing a troubled sixth in the Belmont Stakes on June 11. His competition will include the Grade 3 stakes placed Midnight Mischief, who has been idle since last April, and Monument Hill whose trainer George Weaver sent out Powhatan County to defeat Animal Kingdom in an allowance race here last winter.

"I would have liked to have gotten one more work into him, but I think he's done enough and is tight enough for this race," said Motion. "Naturally our main goal Saturday is to give him a prep to get him ready, physically and mentally, for the race in Dubai. I think it would have been asking a lot of him to go into the World Cup and face the best horses in the world at a mile and one quarter without a race since June.  But I think I've done enough with him that I would be disappointed if he doesn't run very well in this race."