Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Animal Kingdom: The Comeback Kid

Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage
Hopes soared, dreams grew, expectations ascended, and nerves climbed. Animal Kingdom was loading into the starting gate for the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI). Just two weeks prior, the majestic chestnut had captured the Kentucky Derby (GI) at 20-1. But despite his long odds in the Run for the Roses, the easy manner with which he had conquered eighteen rivals gave racing enthusiasts hope that he could be the one: the horse that could put an end to the Triple Crown drought.

But when the audacious Shackleford held off Animal Kingdom in a stirring stretch run in the second leg of the prestigious series, those dreams came to a crashing halt. Despite his loss, Animal Kingdom continued on to the Belmont Stakes (GI), the twelve-furlong test that serves as the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Little did everyone know, this race would change Animal Kingdom’s racing career.

Animal Kingdom was sent off as the favorite in the field of twelve that would contest over the sloppy track. Just strides out of the gate, Animal Kingdom was squeezed by horses, nearly tumbling to the ground while almost catapulting jockey John Velazquez out of the saddle. In spite of the near-disaster, the Derby victor went on to finish a valiant sixth and was soon discovered to have an injury that required two screws in his left hind leg. This injury prevented Animal Kingdom from competing again in 2011.

The colt returned in February 2012, winning an
allowance race at Gulfstream Park in preparation for the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup (GI). However, Animal Kingdom was yet again sidelined with a left hind leg injury, inhibiting him from being seen at the races until the end of the season.

Most would have expected for Animal Kingdom to return in an easy spot, but rather, the colt was prepared for the
Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), which shaped up to be one of the most competitive races of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. Among the talented horses entered in the Mile was the brilliant multiple grade one winner Wise Dan, the multiple group one-winning horses Excelebration – who had been running in the great Frankel’s shadow – and Moonlight Cloud, and the blossoming graded stakes winner Obviously.

With Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time, Animal Kingdom burst from the starting gate on Breeders' Cup Saturday, settling near the rear of the field as the star-studded group of Thoroughbreds thundered past the stands for the initial time. The large chestnut appeared comfortable along the rail as the horses raced around the first turn, rating about six lengths off the pacesetter.

Down the backstretch, Bejarano angled Animal Kingdom outwards slightly as the distance to the finish line grew shorter. While Obviously set brisk fractions on the front end, Animal Kingdom inched closer to the front-running contingent, Bejarano searching for room aboard him. However, a wall of horses obstructed the Derby winner as the field rounded the far turn.


Animal Kingdom remained stuck behind the trap formed by horses as Wise Dan began to close on Obviously, continuing to pursue a clean space to run down the straightaway. Finally, midstretch, a hole opened and Animal Kingdom galloped through, setting his sights on Wise Dan as he kicked into gear. The Graham Motion trainee dug deep, accelerating in imposing fashion in the final strides, only to run out of ground as he finished second in an amazing effort.


Having only raced twice since injury first plagued him, Animal Kingdom has proven to be a highly courageous, talented Thoroughbred. Should he remain sound, great things should be expected of him, as not only has he proven so on the track, but it is implied in his pedigree as well. 



Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage
Though Kentucky-bred, Animal Kingdom has a tremendously international pedigree. In fact, of the sixty-two horses in the first five generations of his pedigree, only fourteen were bred in the United States. Animal Kingdom's bloodlines are greatly influenced by British, German, and French Thoroughbreds, though prominent traces of Irish and Italian ancestry are also found within his parentage.

Animal Kingdom is sired by the Brazilian-bred Leroidesanimaux, a multiple grade one-winning son of Candy Stripes who excelled on grass, earning the 2005 Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Male. Interestingly, Leroidesanimaux also finished second in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Having earned more than $2.7 million, Animal Kingdom owns the title of Leroidesanimaux's leading money earner. Other notable horses sired by Leroidesanimaux include the graded stakes winners Always a Princess, Leroy's Dynameaux, and Sarah's Secret. Leroidesanimaux is a son of Candy Stripes, a two-time leading sire in Argentina responsible for such champions as Invasor and Different.


Candy Stripes is a son of Blushing Groom, recipient of multiple champion honors as both racehorse and sire. A stallion who has had great success as a broodmare sire, Blushing Groom was also a tremendous sire and sire of sires, producing horses like Nashwan, Rahy, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom that were successful on the track and in the breeding shed.


Strength cannot only be found in the top side of Animal Kingdom's pedigree; his dam side is quite strong as well. His dam, the German-bred Dalicia, was a group stakes-winning mare. Out of Dynamis, Dalicia's second dam is Diasprina, a German champion responsible for producing the group stakes-winning horses Desidera and Diacada, as well as the multiple stakes-winning runners Dania and Diable.


Dalicia is sired by Acatenango, one of the most well-known German racehorses of all-time. A multiple group one winner, Acatenango was not only a three-time Horse of the Year, but a multiple-year leading sire. Among his best offspring were the champions Borgia and Lando. He is also the sire of the dams of such group one winners as Querari and Waldpark.


No matter which surface Animal Kingdom focuses upon - he is a winner on dirt, turf, and synthetic - he will find success. The international flair of his bloodlines is reflected in his appearance and running style, as well as the versatility he has displayed. Animal Kingdom is a true superstar and the racing world could be in for a treat should he remain sound and continue his excellence.



Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this blog!!. I was so happy to see Animal Kingdom back and thought he ran an outstanding race. Thanks for all the information on him, loved reading it.

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    1. Thanks, Jain! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. wonderful blog~thanks!

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    1. Thank you! Pleased to hear you enjoyed it!

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  3. Excellent blog, and stunning pictures of Animal Kingdom! He truly is a beauty to be beheld.

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    1. Thanks, Emily! I greatly admire this horse. It was amazing seeing him in person.

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