Preakness Next Stop For Animal Kingdom
The eyes of the horse racing world shift from Churchill Downs to Pimlico Race Course as the Triple Crown players set their sights on Baltimore for the 136th running of the Preakness® Stakes on Saturday, May 21.
This morning, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion informed Pimlico officials, including track president Tom Chuckas, that he is “excited” about Animal Kingdom’s chances in the middle jewel. Chuckas called Motion shortly after his appearance on NBC’s “Today” show to congratulate the Maryland-based conditioner on his Derby victory with the Team Valor International homebred and to personally invite him to the Preakness.
“We certainly plan to be there,” Motion said. “It is going to be exciting. I feel really good because we are coming to the next leg with a fresh horse, which is going to be in our favor.”
Motion said the plan is to ship Animal Kingdom from Louisville, Ky. to the Fair Hill Training Center in Cecil County on Tuesday. The son of Leroidesanimaux is scheduled to return to the track at Fair Hill, located about 60 miles from Pimlico, on Wednesday morning. Motion, 46, has not decided when his star will ship to Pimlico but said it will be “fairly last minute”.
The laid-back trainer said the magnitude of the most important victory of his career was sinking in.
“When you start doing stuff like going on the Today show, it really hits home,” said Motion, about winning the Kentucky Derby. “It hits home that it really did happen. It is an extraordinary feeling.”
A native of England, who moved to the U.S. with his family at the age of 16, Motion has been involved in Maryland racing for 26 years. He worked for Jonathan Sheppard and Bernie Bond before going out on his own in 1993. Motion quickly found success and finished among the top 10 trainers in Maryland from 1995-2001. He was based at Laurel Park for the first 10 years of his career before moving his stable to the Fair Hill Training Center in 2002. He has Breeders’ Cup victories with Better Talk Now and Shared Account on his resume. Shared Account is expected to run in the Grade III Gallorette on the Preakness day undercard.
Animal Kingdom will be Motion’s fourth Preakness starter. He finished third in 2008 with Icabad Crane and also saddled Bay Eagle (2001, 8th) and Equality (2002, 13th) in Maryland’s signature race.
The Preakness is expected to feature three of the top four finishers from Saturday’s Run For The Roses, as well as betting favorite Dialed In, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. Trainers Kathy Ritvo of third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man and Dale Romans, conditioner of Shackleford, who finished fourth, said they are planning to run in the Preakness.
With his victory in the Florida Derby last month, Dialed In is eligible for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. Last summer MI Developments Inc. (MID), the majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, announced a pair of historic and unique bonus programs centered around Pimlico Race Course’s premier 3-year old races, called the “Preakness 5.5” and “Black-Eyed Susan 2.2”. The late-running Zito trainee also captured the Holy Bull Stakes earlier in the Gulfstream Park meet. In addition to the race purses earned in the qualifying events and the Preakness, the owner of the winning horse would receive $5 million and his trainer would get $500,000.
“The $5 million would be good enough to run in the Preakness,” said Zito, who ranks second to D. Wayne Lukas in history with 20 Preakness starters. “We love Pimlico and look forward to another shot.”
Dialed In had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Mineshaft was squeezed at the break and was in sitting in his usual position at the back of the field before rallying into a moderate pace to finish eighth. Dialed In ran the last half-mile in: 47.02, a half-second faster than Animal Kingdom.
“He came home faster than the winner, which means a lot,” added Zito. “He was just too far back. You can’t do it that way.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has lifted the Woodlawn Vase twice in the last four years with Curlin (2007) and Rachel Alexandra (2009), told Pimlico racing officials that no decision has been made on the Derby runner-up, Nehro. However, Asmussen confirmed Preakness plans for Astrology, who finished second in the Jerome Stakes in his last start and has never been out of the money in seven career outings.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who has saddled five Preakness winners, indicated the status of Midnight Interlude (16th, Kentucky Derby) and Grade II Rebel Stakes winner The Factor would not be made until next weekend.
Connections from nine other runners, who did not compete in the Derby, have also expressed interest in the Preakness. The potential new shooters, in alphabetical order, are Concealed Identity (winner, Federico Tesio); Dance City (third, Arkansas Derby); Flashpoint (fourth, Florida Derby); King Congie (third, Blue Grass); Mr. Commons (third, Santa Anita Derby); Norman Asbjornson (fourth, Wood Memorial); Prime Cut (second, Lexington Stakes); Saratoga Red (10th, Arkansas Derby) and Sway Away (fourth, Arkansas Derby).
The Preakness is limited to 14 starters. Sixteen of the last 19 years have seen double-digit starters.