Since 1711, when Queen Anne established Ascot Racecourse,
the third week of June has been home to perhaps the most superb Thoroughbred
race meeting in the world, laced with history, tradition, and grandeur. To
commence the meeting each June is a race named after Queen Anne, a group one
mile-long event that has crowned the likes of many great horses, most recently
the undefeated Frankel.
Photo: Terri Cage
This year, the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup hero, Animal Kingdom, hopes to add his name
to the roster of brilliant Thoroughbreds that have captured the Queen Anne, a
list that includes not only Frankel, but also three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile victress
Goldikova. What Animal Kingdom has accomplished up to
this point is extraordinary, having captured America's most coveted race and
the world's richest horse race. But having been plagued with injuries, the
horse has made fewer starts than his connections had initially outlined for him, thus
preventing him from acquiring additional prestigious victories. But who's to
say Animal Kingdom can't prove himself to be one of the greatest horses we have
seen in recent years?
Photo by Terri Cage
Prior to the 2011 Run for the Roses, it would be difficult to believe that the
son of Leroidesanimaux could join the list of all-time great racehorses. He'd only
started four times - none of which had come on dirt - and only had two wins
over synthetic surfaces, including a win in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.
But when Animal Kingdom won the Run for the Roses with authority, the public's
opinion of the horse changed. In fact, the easy manner with which he had
conquered eighteen rivals gave racing enthusiasts hope that he could be the
one: the horse that could put an end to the Triple Crown drought.
But when the audacious Shackleford
held off Animal Kingdom in a stirring stretch run in the second leg of the
prestigious series, those dreams came to a crashing halt. Despite his loss,
Animal Kingdom continued on to the Belmont Stakes, the twelve-furlong test that
serves as the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Little did everyone know, this
race would forever alter Animal Kingdom’s racing career.
Animal Kingdom was sent off as the favorite in the field of twelve that would
contest over the sloppy track. Just strides out of the gate, Animal Kingdom was
squeezed by horses, nearly tumbling to the ground while almost catapulting
jockey John Velazquez out of the saddle. In spite of the near-disaster, the
Derby victor went on to finish a valiant sixth and was soon discovered to have
an injury that required two screws in his left hind leg. This injury prevented
Animal Kingdom from competing again in 2011.
The colt returned in February 2012, winning an allowance race at Gulfstream
Park in preparation for the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup.
However, Animal Kingdom was yet again sidelined with a left hind leg injury,
inhibiting him from being seen at the races until the end of the season.
Most would have expected for Animal Kingdom to return in an easy spot, but
rather, the colt was prepared for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, which shaped up
to be one of the most competitive races of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. Among the
talented horses entered in the Mile was eventual 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan, the multiple group one-winning horses Excelebration – who had been
running in the great Frankel’s shadow – and Moonlight Cloud, and the blossoming
graded stakes winner Obviously.
With Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time, Animal Kingdom burst from the
starting gate on Breeders' Cup Saturday, settling near the rear of the field as
the star-studded group of Thoroughbreds thundered past the stands for the
initial time. The large chestnut appeared comfortable along the rail as the
horses raced around the first turn, rating about six lengths off the
Down the backstretch, Bejarano angled Animal Kingdom outwards slightly as the
distance to the finish line grew shorter. While Obviously set brisk fractions
on the front end, Animal Kingdom inched closer to the front-running contingent as Bejarano searched for room aboard him. However, a wall of horses obstructed
the Derby winner as the field rounded the far turn.
Animal Kingdom remained stuck behind the trap formed by horses as Wise Dan
began to close on Obviously, continuing to pursue a clean space to run down the
straightaway. Finally, midstretch, a hole opened and Animal Kingdom galloped
through, setting his sights on Wise Dan as he kicked into gear. The Graham
Motion trainee dug deep, accelerating in imposing fashion in the final strides,
only to run out of ground as he finished second in an amazing effort.
Photo by Terri Cage
The magnificent chestnut was again pointed toward the Dubai World Cup, with his
2013 debut scheduled to occur in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. As the
Derby victor prepared for the February race, it was announced that a majority
interest in Animal Kingdom’s breeding rights had been obtained by John
Messara’s Arrowfield Stud, meaning he would commence his stallion career in
September 2013 in Australia.
With this new arrangement came a new plan for the remainder of Animal Kingdom’s
career: he would make only three more starts, all in grade/group one company. The
first of those starts was the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, in which Animal
Kingdom contended with Point of Entry, one of the best American turf horses in
Breaking from the outside in a six-horse field, Animal Kingdom settled near the rear as the small group of horses approached the initial turn. Less than
five lengths separated the Derby winner from the pacesetter, who galloped a
length and one-half ahead of Point of Entry. Slow fractions were set, allowing
the group to remain closely knit. As a result of this, jockey Joel Rosario –
aboard Animal Kingdom for the first time – asked Animal Kingdom for an early
move, allowing the Graham Motion trainee to seize the lead just prior to the
Although his lead was initially short-lived, Animal Kingdom regained it as the
field turned for home. But Point of Entry loomed large on the outside and drew
even with the Team Valor homebred, who fought to retain the lead. But Point of
Entry – whose only loss in his past six starts was a runner-up effort in the
Breeders’ Cup Turf – overtook Animal Kingdom down the lane, defeating the
son of Leroidesanimaux by 1 ¼ lengths. Animal Kingdom’s performance was
impressive nonetheless, especially considering he seemed to have been
compromised by Rosario’s early move.
Animal Kingdom remained on course for the Dubai World Cup and the following
month, he departed the United States, landing in the United Arab Emirates less
than two weeks prior to the $10 million-dollar race. Granted he was officially
representing Australia in the international race, he carried the pride of
America with him, along with the pressure of ending America’s drought in the
prestigious event. A United States-based horse had not captured the Dubai World
Cup since Well Armed in 2009 and not
a single horse hailing from the United States had been crowned the victor of the
world’s richest race since it had begun being contested at Meydan Racecourse.
Confronting eleven other world-class Thoroughbreds, Animal Kingdom left the
gate with just one horse to his outside and soon found a position mid-pack with
Rosario aboard. Entering the far turn, Animal Kingdom edged into a spot from
which he could stalk the pace from the outside. As two-time Breeders’ Cup
Ladies’ Classic victress Royal Delta set
the pace, Animal Kingdom settled into the perfect position on the outside,
tracking the leader down the backstretch.
Inching closer to the champion mare around the far turn, Animal Kingdom charged
to the lead three furlongs away from the finish, holding a clear advantage over
his opponents as he led them into the straightaway. Accelerating impressively,
Animal Kingdom pricked his ears as he kicked clear, holding off all challengers
to score by a convincing 2 lengths.
Shortly after Animal Kingdom’s authoritative triumph in Dubai, Darley
acquired a 29% interest in the champion just over a month before it was
announced that Animal Kingdom would make his final start in the Queen Anne
Stakes on opening day at Royal Ascot, June 18. And so on Tuesday, Animal Kingdom
will chase history as he concludes his spectacular career. A victory would
likely label him as one of the greatest Thoroughbred racehorses of all-time,
but regardless of where he finishes at the renowned racecourse, Animal Kingdom
has captured the hearts of racing enthusiasts from around the globe, exhibited
rare brilliance with each performance, and conquered two of the most significant
races in the world. Tuesday will be a day to celebrate one of the most exceptional,
versatile United States-based Thoroughbreds in recent years.
Just as Animal Kingdom’s trainer, Graham Motion, believes he’ll “never train another
horse like this,” it is unlikely we will ever see another horse with such a sublime
blend of prowess, versatility, and perseverance as Animal Kingdom.