Saturday, February 18, 2012

Animal Kingdom punches his ticket to Dubai

Animal Kingdom easily won his comeback race at Gulfstream
Photo:  Adam Coglianese, Gulfstream

In an effort that left both his connections and his legions of fans sighing with relief and admiration, Animal Kingdom impressively won his four-year-old debut over the Gulfstream turf today, easily defeating seasoned allowance rivals in his comeback effort after an eight-month layoff. 

The reigning Derby winner and Three-Year-Old Champion son of Leroidesanimaux rallied with the greatest of ease in the stretch of the mile-and-a-sixteenth contest, and once jockey Johnny Valasquez said, “go,” he was never seriously threatened, besting second-place finisher Monument Hill by two lengths and stopping the timer in 1:41.72.  Animal Kingdom has now or placed in seven of his eight lifetime starts, and has banked earnings of $1,967,500.

Responding to a chorus of congratulations after the race, trainer Graham Motion tweeted, “Thanks everyone, humbled by an awesome animal.  Exhale.” 

Indeed, Motion had been holding his breath since last June.  After his brilliant victory in the Derby, and courageous runner-up effort in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom’s three-year-old season was abruptly curtailed when he was bumped and knocked off stride soon after the start of the Belmont, finishing a disappointing sixth to Ruler On Ice

The strapping chestnut was subsequently found to have sustained a potentially career-ending slab fracture of his left hock, probably caused by that incident.  Barbaro’s celebrated vet, Dr. Dean Richardson, performed remedial surgery at the New Bolton Center in early July, and when that procedure was deemed successful, Motion mapped out a plan to get the Team Valor colorbearer to Barry Irwin’s ultimate goal:  a berth in the starting gate of the $10 million Dubai World Cup at the end of March.  Irwin believes his colt is among the best in the world, and wants a chance to prove it.

Today, Animal Kingdom punched his ticket to that elite international test, and while the competition he trounced at Gulfstream pales in comparison to what he’ll face in Dubai, he showed that he’s made a full recovery and still has the stuff of which great horses are made.  

According to Trakus, Animal Kingdom covered a distance of 5690 feet in his comeback effort, which was 28 feet (and 3.2 lengths) more than his closest rival.  He motored at an average cruising speed of 38.2 miles per hour, suggesting that wherever Animal Kingdom goes, the others will have to catch him.