A Kentucky Derby Winner the World Can Appreciate
Animal Kingdom, with John Velazquez up, after winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)
His sire was a turf champion from Brazil. His dam was a blue-blooded stout mare from Germany.
Animal Kingdom had never run on dirt before the 137th Kentucky Derby. On Saturday at Churchill Downs he looked like he could run all day, probably on any surface.
“Well, he does everything great,” said winning jockey John Velazquez, who had never ridden Animal Kingdom before the Derby and only got the mount after Robby Albarado was injured two days before. “No bad habits. He handled everything good today.”
By Leroidesanimaux (Brz), and out of the Acatenango (Ger) mare Dalicia, Animal Kingdom is a Derby winner unlike anything America has seen. He speaks fluent Polytrack, having run well on the artificial surface at Arlington Park, Keeneland Race Course, and Turfway Park.
He loves turf too. He finished second in his only turf start off of a layoff, and at a trip that was perhaps a little sharp for his staying genes. He was gobbling up ground at the finish.
Animal Kingdom was the workout partner for 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Pluck over the winter, and the then unheralded chestnut gave Pluck, America’s best turf juvenile, all he could handle on the grass.
“He’s been an extraordinary horse to train in the morning,” said trainer Graham Motion. “When Barry sent me Pluck, I was working Animal Kingdom with him, and I said, ‘Well I like Pluck, but [Animal Kingdom] is special.”
The Preakness Stakes lies ahead in two weeks, then maybe the Belmont Stakes. And someday, when Animal Kingdom retires, he will provide an interesting infusion for U.S. breeding lines, which have tilted away from stamina while ignoring the potential implications of permissive medication rules.
“I think that [America] has not done enough importing of horses and bloodlines from other places where horses don’t run on drugs, and horses legs are not manipulated, and horses basically are bigger and tougher, stronger and sounder,” said Barry Irwin, founder of Team Valor International, which bred Animal Kingdom.
“In Germany you are not allowed to breed a mare that has ever raced on drugs — Lasix, Bute, nothing. So when you buy some stock from there, you know you’re getting something good. So that’s where I’m coming from.”