Last year, for me, Animal Kingdom was nothing more than an over-hyped 3-year old. If not for making the Kentucky Derby field and continuing on through the Triple Crown, he probably would have flown well below my radar. Despite his Kentucky Derby win, Preakness second, and troubled but game Belmont sixth place finish, I wanted to see more from the colt. Unfortunately, that would not happen due to the injury he sustained in the Belmont. As a result, Animal Kingdom missed the rest of the year and never had a chance to prove to me, or any other naysayers for that matter, just how great he could be. However, the colt still managed to snag end-of-year honors, a decision by the voters that I still do not agree with. Earlier in the week I stated that I believed the Dubai World Cup was way too ambitious a goal for a horse returning from a major injury and extended layoff. I still believe that, but today, Animal Kingdom put some of my worries to rest.
Under John Velazquez, Animal Kingdom broke a beat slowly and trailed the field early. According to Velazquez, the colt did everything on his own, from moving up in the backstretch to swinging three wide on the far turn. And when called upon, the colt responded well, kicking away from his competition to win by two under a hand ride. Trainer Graham Motion and Team Valor were quite pleased with Animal Kingdom's effort, stating that he got exactly what he needed from the race, nothing more nor nothing less. The colt looked good winning in his first race since last June, and even I, one who is admittedly not on the colt's bandwagon, could not find fault with his effort today. Though I still do not believe that an allowance race is an adequate enough prep for one of the world's biggest races, I do believe it is a start. For now, all plans for Dubai are good to go, and maybe, just maybe, Animal Kingdom is a special enough horse to pull off this ambitious feat.
Speaking of 2012 debuts, Animal Kingdom was not the only one back in style. Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Force Freeze was also back in action in the G2 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship at Gulfstream Park today. Even though the Forest Camp gelding returned to the races at a distance he had never before been asked to cover, he still came home a decisive winner. Under Paco Lopez, Force Freeze broke alertly and went straight out to contest the pace set by Amanecer de Oro. The gelding stayed with his opponent until the far turn when he took charge of the race. Despite Lopez dropping the whip in the stretch drive, Force Freeze finished strongly to cruise under the wire 3 3/4 lengths in front of second place finisher Troilus.
Today's win was a strong start, and first career graded victory, for the gelding who had one win in eight starts last year. Along with the lone victory for last year, Force Freeze also finished second three times and third once, making him a tough competitor in graded stakes races in both the U.S. and Dubai. With so many champion sprinters returning from last year, Force Freeze will have his work cut out for him again this season in order to remain at the top of the division. Tough losses to Giant Ryan and Amazombie last year prevented the gelding from becoming a Grade 1 winner, but if today's effort is any indication, then I would say that it will not be long before Force Freeze adds a Grade 1 win to his resume.