Derby Winner Animal Kingdom Starts 2012 Season at Gulfstream Saturday
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Animal Kingdom produced a career moment for trainer Graham Motion when Team Valor International’s colt powered to a 2 ¾-length triumph in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last May.
Although Animal Kingdom will forever be remembered as a Kentucky Derby champion, Motion still has misgivings about the son of Lesroidsesanimaux’s 2011 campaign that was cut short by injury in June.
“I believe he is a special horse that did not get to show how good he was, and I hope he gets that chance this year,” Motion said.
Animal Kingdom will start off his 2012 campaign at Gulfstream Park in Saturday’s fifth race, a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance race.
“This is just a start, but it doesn’t all have to happen this weekend,” said Motion, whose colt is certain to be a heavy favorite in a field of six horses. “But I hope he gets a chance this year to show what a super horse he is.”
Animal Kingdom followed up his Kentucky Derby score with a gutsy second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (G1), in which he closed from last two come within two lengths of victorious Shackleford, before finishing a troubled sixth in the Belmont (G1). A fracture in his left hind leg was discovered shortly after the Triple Crown campaign and surgery was performed.
The Kentucky-bred 4-year-old returned to training at Fair Hill in the fall and has been training sharply at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite facility in Boynton Beach, since mid-January.
“I think I’ve been pleasantly surprised how quickly he’s come around. I think we got a good base in him at Fair Hill before he came down here,” Motion said. “Once he got down here and started working him on the grass, we’ve gotten some serious works into him.”
Motion originally had planned to bring back Animal Kingdom at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 25 but opted for Saturday’s allowance race as a prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.
“I believe that I’m running him with the bare minimum of works that I would want to run him with. But with this race being this weekend, it gives me six weeks to Dubai, which I think gives me ample time for him to recover from the race,” he said. “In whatever race we ran him in, the objective of running him was to get him to Dubai in the best possible shape.
“The problem with waiting until next weekend at Tampa is that it would be the only option I would have before running in Dubai. If for some reason we had bad weather like we had last weekend, I wouldn’t have a backup plan. That’s what’s so attractive running this week.”
Animal Kingdom began his 3-year-old campaign at Gulfstream in a turf allowance on March 3. After a close-up second-place finish compromised by an awkward start, he captured the $500,000 Spiral (G3) over Turfway Park’s synthetic track and went on to win the Derby over Churchill’s dirt track.
Motion said he’s expects Animal Kingdom to return to action as good as ever.
“He’s given me every indication in the morning that he’s that horse,” said Motion, whose colt will be ridden by regular jockey John Velazquez.
Animal Kingdom will be challenged in the race for non-winners of three races other than maiden, claiming or starter by the George Weaver-trained Monument Hill, a two-time winner at Gulfstream this year. Last year, Weaver saddled Powhatan County for a narrow victory over Animal Kingdom in the March 3 allowance.