Denk on Horses Derby contender profiles
Profile: Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom winning the Spiral Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)
There are an awful lot of things to like about Animal Kingdom, but there is one giant unknown: Can he run on dirt?
That question was answered to the satisfaction of trainer Graham Motion and jockey Robby Albarado on Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, where Animal Kingdom worked six furlongs in 1:13. It was the second fastest of nine works at the distance.
“I like the way the horse did it. He galloped out with his ears forward. That’s a good sign,” Albarado said. “Obviously you don’t know until the race, because sand will be kicking back and hitting him, but I think he’s a nice horse, and nice horses overcome a lot.”
Animal Kingdom has shown class and ability in every start. He debuted at Arlington Park in a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race on September 18. In last place approaching the far turn, his rider asked him to accelerate. Animal Kingdom responded but ran up on horses and was stopped cold. He re-rallied through traffic and came running for second behind the good 2-year-old Willcox Inn, who finished third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in his next start.
Animal Kingdom also went to Keeneland for his next start and broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths going 1 1/18 miles on the Polytrack.
Animal Kingdom made his 3-year-old debut in a one-mile allowance race on the turf at Gulfstream Park. He finished second by a head to Powhatan County, but it was a great first race of the year. Outmoved at the top of the stretch by the winner, Animal Kingdom was just beginning to find his best gear near the wire. He looked like a stayer.
Next up was the Grade 3 Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, a 1 1/8-mile race on Polytrack. Animal Kingdom was checked in traffic and last of 11 heading into the first turn. Although the synthetic tracks are advertised as being kick-back free, Turfway is far from it. Animal Kingdom galloped through clouds of kickback in that first turn (still not the same as dirt kickback though).
After moving up along the inside on the backstretch, Animal Kingdom had propelled himself to fourth place midway on the turn. Angling outside, he pounced on the leader Decisive Moment turning for home. Those two ran together to the sixteenth pole, when Animal Kingdom seemingly found another gear and won by 2 3/4 lengths. Even after making a long, sustained move to get to the front, Animal Kingdom was striding out beautifully at the wire. He looked like a horse who could handle more ground.
Animal Kingdom is lightly raced with just four career starts, but he already has two wins at 1 1/8 miles. His form is still relatively unexposed. The only Derby runners he has faced are longshots Decisive Moment and Twinspired, and he beat them handily. Twinspired, who had a wide trip at Turfway, came back to finish second, beaten by a nose, in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Animal Kingdom is by champion turf miler Leroidesanimaux, and he is out of the Grade 3 stakes-winning German runner Dalicia. His pedigree is almost all turf, and there is a ton of stamina in the family tree. The dirt question remains until he proves it in the afternoon in a real race, but Animal Kingdom looks like a live long shot in the Kentucky Derby.