Updated on 06/19/2013 9:09AM

Royal Ascot: Animal Kingdom faces new challenge in Queen Anne

Amy Lanigan
Animal Kingdom, the winner of the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March, will make the final start of his career Tuesday at Royal Ascot.

For Animal Kingdom, there has been no turning back.

This spring, he has moved from Florida to Dubai and on to England, and after his start there in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday, it is off to stud in Australia.

In the Queen Anne itself, there simply is no turning.

The Queen Anne, a Group 1 race going a mile, is run down a straight, undulating course far different from anything Animal Kingdom has encountered in a race. And it is the nature of his journey down the Ascot straightaway even more than his journey halfway around the world that poses the greatest challenge to Animal Kingdom.

“Keeping his focus while racing on a straight course is the biggest challenge,” said Barry Irwin, the president of Team Valor International, which bred and co-owns Animal Kingdom. “It is different, and he has never done it. But, having said that, this horse is smart. He learns and adapts, and I have a lot of confidence in him after seeing both of his last two works in person. He is ready.”

[ROYAL ASCOT: Watch live and wager with DRF Bets]

Animal Kingdom is the favorite to win the Queen Anne, captured in breathtaking fashion last year by Frankel. The Queen Anne, the first race of the five-day Royal Ascot meeting, is one of three Group 1 stakes on an excellent card.

The champion Dawn Approach, whose first loss came June 1 in the Epsom Derby, heads the one-mile St. James’s Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds, while Shea Shea, successful at the highest level in South Africa and Dubai, makes his English debut in the King’s Stand, a five-furlong dash. Post time for the Queen Anne is 9:30 a.m. Eastern.

Team Valor, which forms owners’ partnerships, sold a portion of Animal Kingdom to Arrowfield Stud, an Australian farm, early this year. Another share in the 5-year-old horse was later purchased by Darley, which will stand Animal Kingdom at stud in Kentucky when he shuttles to the Northern Hemisphere.

A win in the Queen Anne would further burnish an already-glittering résumé, which is topped by a win in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, a convincing score March 30 in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, and a troubled runner-up finish last fall to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

The Queen Anne, like prestigious one-mile races in North America, is considered a stallion-making race, but that was only part of the reason the race was chosen over the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday at Royal Ascot.

“That race was a concern because it’s a lot of uphill, plus you’re turning right-handed,” trainer Graham Motion said. “I thought it would be more confusing than the straight mile.”

Motion has flown back and forth from Maryland to England bimonthly since Animal Kingdom has been based at trainer David Lanigan’s yard in Lambourn. Animal Kingdom has worked several times over a straight course there and learned to handle it, and he reportedly thrived in a seven-furlong work on the Ascot course last month. John Velazquez, who regains the mount for the Queen Anne, rode him in the work.

Animal Kingdom will face 12 rivals in the Queen Anne and will break on the outside of all of them. Post 13 should give Animal Kingdom a clean run on the grandstand side of the course, often a favorable position.

The field is not especially strong for a European Group 1 mile, with the 4-year-old filly Elusive Kate the most proven top-level performer other than Animal Kingdom. The John Gosden-trained filly makes her first start of 2013 after an all-Group 1 2012 campaign that saw her compile a record of 1-2-2 from five starts.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Declaration of War appeared to be at least somewhat exposed when he could only finish fifth of 12 in the Group 1 J.T. Lockinge Stakes on May 18 at Newbury and appears to prefer softer ground than he will find Tuesday. There were showers Sunday at Ascot, but the course still remained on the quick side of good, conditions that should suit Animal Kingdom.

Dawn Approach tries to make amends

For Dawn Approach, the St. James’s Palace Stakes offers a chance at reputation restoration after the previously unbeaten colt flopped badly in the Epsom Derby.

Racing farther than one mile for the first time, Dawn Approach’s chance was lost soon after the start, when he got very rank with regular rider Kevin Manning, who eventually stopped fighting with his mount and let him run to the lead midway through the 1 1/2-mile Derby. Dawn Approach, predictably, tired badly in the race’s latter stages, struggling home last, but he will be on much more solid ground running around one right-handed bend in the one-mile St. James’s Palace.

Dawn Approach, trained and co-owned with Godolphin by Jim Bolger, won his first seven starts, three of them Group 1 races, and would be especially formidable Tuesday if Magician, the sharp Irish 2000 Guineas winner, is forced to miss the race.

Magician injured himself this past week, and his status for the race might not be resolved until Tuesday. Magician and Dawn Approach were among nine final entrants for the St. James’s, and Magician – along with Mars and George Vancouver – is part of an O’Brien-trained trio entered.

Toronado looked good in winning the Craven Stakes to start his season but was no match for Dawn Approach when fourth in the English 2000 Guineas.

Bolger’s second horse in the race, Leitir Moir, won a Group 3 in Ireland last out, but in past big races, he has served as a pacemaker for Dawn Approach.

Surface, field size could affect Shea Shea

Shea Shea, trained by Mike de Kock, hardly could have been more impressive in winning two important sprint stakes over the winter in Dubai, but the turf course at Meydan was especially firm and fast-playing this season, and even good Ascot ground could make things more difficult for Shea Shea. Not only the ground, but the size of the field in the Group 1 King’s Stand should play a role, and it will be up to jockey Christophe Soumillon to push the right buttons in the five-furlong sprint.

Shea Shea landed post 15 in a 19-horse field drawn Sunday. His chief rivals, in the opinions of antepost bettors, are Reckless Abandon, Swiss Spirit, and Sole Power. English sprinters, however, have not especially distinguished themselves in recent seasons, and Shea Shea is widely expected to provide de Kock with his first Ascot winner.