Trainer Graham Motion reported Wednesday that Animal Kingdom is still on track to make his 2013 debut in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on February 9th after working an ‘easy’ half-mile at Palm Meadows.
The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner breezed over the Palm Meadows turf in 52 3/5 Tuesday morning after being freshened following his runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) on Nov. 3.
“He went easy. It was around the ‘dogs,’ so the time is a little bit deceiving,” Motion said. “The idea was to give him a nice, comfortable first breeze back. He’s had some down time since Breeders’ Cup.
“I was a lot more relaxed about it than the last time I worked him, which was right before the Breeders’ Cup. It was a lot more pleasurable to watch,” he added. “I’m glad to get him back on track and start back up with the process. He’d been on such a tight schedule for the Breeders’ Cup, I wanted to give him a little bit of time to get over it.”
The disappointment of Animal Kingdom’s second-place finish behind Wise Dan following a very troubled trip still lingers.
“How can you not, when a horse has a troubled trip on that stage on that day with what we were trying to achieve? At the same time, you have to be awfully proud of what he did. It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword,” said Motion, whose Derby winner finished just 1 ½ lengths behind Wise Dan despite being blocked steadied on the backstretch and blocked in traffic in deep stretch. “On that day, with that caliber of racing, it’s so much about the trip. You can’t get away with having a bad trip on a day like that.”
The performance was particularly impressive considering that the 4-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux was coming off an eight-month layoff due to an injury to his left hind leg discovered following an allowance victory at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 18. His two-length victory in that race came after an eight-month layoff due to an unrelated injury to his left hind leg.
Animal Kingdom will be stepping back into Grade 1 company for his Gulfstream start this season and could meet head on with trainer Shug McGaughey’s multiple Grade 1 stakes-winning Point of Entry, who also encountered trouble at Santa Anita while finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
“This is a different deal to what we were trying to do last (February). We were just trying to get him back to race. Now, we’re at a different point here,” Motion said. “He’s coming off of one of the toughest Group 1s that he could run in. I’m not looking to duck anyone that’s for sure.”
Motion and Team Valor International are hoping to use the Gulfstream Park Turf as a prep race for the $6 million Dubai World Cup in late March.