Saturday, February 18, 2012

Animal Kingdom Returns

On May 7, 2011, Animal Kingdom galloped his way into the history books as he captured the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby (GI). Following a game second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (GI), the son of Leroidesanimaux looked poised to run huge in the final leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (GI).

However, the Derby winner was hindered following the break from the gate, causing jockey John Velazquez to nearly lose his seat. Despite making a courageous rally, Animal Kingdom finished sixth. He emerged from the race with a slab fracture in his left hind leg and after surgery, the colt missed the rest of the year. Yet he was still voted 2011 Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

Though Animal Kingdom was slated to run in the Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII) on the turf on February 25, he was entered in a mile and one-sixteenth turf allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park on February 18. He went to post looking fit, collected, and ready to run.

Breaking from the outside post in a six-horse field, Animal Kingdom came out of the starting gate a bit slow and looked very eager as the horses galloped past the stands for the first time. Under Johnny Velazquez, the keen chestnut trailed the field on the outside as the horses swung into the clubhouse turn.

Near the end of the backstretch, the Team Valor-owned Derby winner suddenly strode past three horses, finding his position in third before the field entered the far turn. Around the final curve, Animal Kingdom effortlessly struck to the lead, striding to the front. Despite a rally from Monument Hill, Animal Kingdom’s long, beautiful stride allowed him to draw away to a two-length victory. The final time was 1:41.72 for a mile and one-sixteenth. The Derby victor completed the final sixteenth of a mile in a breathtaking 5.65 seconds.

In a Tweet by Graham Motion, the trainer of the Derby winner said, “Thanks everyone, humbled by an awesome animal. Exhale….. #AK.”

Animal Kingdom is truly an awesome animal, which is why his connections have set illustrious goals for him. He is expected to run next in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) on March 31, 2012 at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, in which he could face the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner Royal Delta, the two-time grade one-winning Game On Dude, and the multiple group one-winning So You Think.

At Gulfstream Park two races after Animal Kingdom’s return, the horse that defeated Animal Kingdom at Gulfstream last year, Powhatan County, also won. It was as if February 18, 2012 was meant to be Animal Kingdom Day. Perhaps 2012 is meant to be the year of Animal Kingdom.

For more on Animal Kingdom, please read my article from November 16, 2011, The Return of the Kingdom.

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