Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom wins his 2012 debut


Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom on the backside of Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom on the backside of Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom wins his 2012 debut by putting it in high gear and sailing to victory to win an optional claimer by two lengths on the Gulfstream Park turf course.  Team Valor International’s chestnut colt was using the race as a prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup next month.  We have heard from a few members of Kentucky Derby Tours that they are going to Dubai to see the race.

After breaking slowly and trailing, he moved down the backstretch while staying on the outside as they moved on the turn.  He took the lead as he approached the top of the stretch.

Last year’s Eclipse Award winning champion 3-year-old male, sent off as the 3-5 favorite, completed the distance in 1:41.72. Monument Hill and Javier Castellano finished second.

“They went slow enough where he just pulled me into contention all on his own,” jockey John Velazquez said. “I let him do what he wanted as opposed to wrangling him back behind horses. The second I started kissing at him in the stretch he picked it right up and took off. It was a great feeling today and great to have him back. He felt as good as ever.”

This was the first start for Animal Kingdom since his injury in the Belmont Stakes last June. He had been working since November for trainer Graham Motion at Palm Meadows in Maryland and South Florida.  Animal Kingdom won both the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Track.

“Obviously, I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t won today, when you have a race that’s set up for you,” Motion said. “But this was the best thing for us. He still had to go out there and win it. He needed a race and still has six weeks to regroup to get him to Dubai in the right way.

“This horse has come a long way since October. Nothing was more heartbreaking than to see this horse stuck in a stall a week after the Belmont. He went from being the fittest horse in the country to not being able to get out of his stall. That was tough. To see him today, back to himself, obviously I’m elated.”

“All we were worried about was having him run too big,” said Barry Irwin, chief executive officer of Team Valor. “We didn’t want to see a big race and have him leave it on the track. We did not need a big race here. All we wanted was a nice quiet race and we got it.

“He’s much better now than he was last year. This race is not going to prove that, but we can tell by the way he trains and the way he looks he’s a much better horse this year.”