Fittingly, Animal Kingdom prevails in wide-open Kentucky Derby
But what Animal Kingdom showed in Louisville was a good bit of natural speed and a nifty turn of foot. He broke from the gate comfortably and moved through the first quarter mile without being troubled, in part because jockey John Velazquez kept him wide down the lane before settling in three-wide on the clubhouse turn. Animal Kingdom stayed where he was down the backstretch, riding in the middle of the pack and never falling too far behind, before starting his move on the turn for home. In a nifty bit of riding, Velazquez sent the colt through a narrow gap between horses before swinging him to the outside again. Animal Kingdom came off the turn for home in the middle of the track with nothing in front of him but open track, and he inhaled the leaders in a matter of strides, pulling away as he hit the wire.
Animal Kingdom has the speed and the stamina to be competitive in both of the final two races of the Triple Crown series, and he's clearly peaking at the right time. He's not an unknown quantity anymore and should be considered a major threat at the Preakness on May 21.
Motion grew up on a stud farm just 10 miles from the English racing mecca of Newmarket, which has a famous racecourse of its own. With a training operation based in Elkton, Md., he has earned a reputation as a sober, judicious strategist -- Animal Kingdom's light career workload is a testament to how cautious Motion can be with his horses. Unlike many of his peers, he insists on resting his horses when they're hurt, rather than using medication to get them to the post -- he's been described in the press as the "anti-Dutrow," a reference to flamboyant trainer Richard Dutrow, who won the 2008 Derby and Preakness with Big Brown while boasting of his reliance on equine pharmaceuticals. The proof of Motion's training acumen can be seen in his more than 1,000 career victories.
Motion's big horse for the Derby was Toby's Corner, the surprise winner of last month's Wood Memorial. But the horse scratched early in the week due to an unspecified injury.
Such is the case with Robby Albarado, one of the finest jockeys in American racing, who fell from a mount and fractured his nose at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. He took Thursday and Friday off, and that was enough for Motion and Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, to replace him with John Velazquez, who became available after his mount, 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, had scratched from the Derby earlier that morning.
"It was a tough call because I really like Robby," said Irwin after the race. "But this horse has 20 partners. There's a lot invested. And it turned out to be the right thing to do."