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HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

The End of the Animal Kingdom Saga

Animal Kingdom
Photo: Terri Cage
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.


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 pacesetter.


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 recent memory.


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 far turn.


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.


 

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SORRY TO NEVER HV SEEN HIM RACEIN PERSON..A GREAT GREAT HORSE-SUCH DETERMINATION AND HEART--
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About Mary Cage

 

Mary Cage, an 18-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published with the BloodHorse's website, the American Quarter Horse Association's magazine "America's Horse", and Southern Racehorse Magazine. Blogging about the sport of horse racing combines her love for horse racing and writing. 

 

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan as she writes about assorted horse racing topics.