Zipse’s Kentucky Derby Daily – Day 6
Horsemen often like to mix it up and try new things with their horses. Changes like switching jockeys, or adding blinkers can many times lead to newfound success for their charges. An even bigger change in fortune can happen when the horse tries a new racing surface for the first time. Sometimes the new feel under their feet can lead to a lightning in the bottle type of result. You just don’t expect too much experimentation when it comes to the biggest race of their lives, but that is precisely what Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom will attempt in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
This year’s run for the roses will mark the Graham Motion trained colt’s first ever foray on dirt in his four-race career, but he has enough going for him to believe that a big performance in the Derby is not out of the question. The belief in the son of Leroidesanimaux was given a boost yesterday when he finally got to work over the Churchill Downs strip, and did it in style with a sharp six-furlong work in 1:13 over the fast main course. With jockey Robby Albarado in the saddle, Animal Kingdom and worked in company with stablemate Meistersinger. Turning in fractions of :12.40, :24.80, :37.20 and :49.20, he broke off about three lengths behind his stablemate, pulled even before drawing off in the stretch. After missing a chance to work at Churchill due to the weather last week, and then an indifferent work at Keeneland, the impressive move was just what his connections were looking for.
“As disappointed as I was with how things turned out last week, I couldn’t have been happier this week,” trainer Graham Motion said. “Last week everything did not go perfectly. Today, everything went perfectly. Just cut and dried, really.”
The news that Animal Kingdom likes the surface at Churchill Downs could be among the important news we learn in the week leading up to the big race. The attractive chestnut is bred to handle the distance, and has always given the impression of being a talented performer since the day I saw him wait on traffic and finish strongly in an Arlington Park maiden race last summer. Since that debut, he has improved with every race, culminating with a strong win in the March 26 Spiral Stakes. That day I was impressed with the middle move he made to swing into contention on the far turn. He seemed to dawdle a bit before early in the stretch, but came home strongly in the final furlong to win going away.
A move like that is exactly the kind that wins many a Kentucky Derby. After the Spiral, I thought if he takes to dirt, he would be my longshot selection for the Derby. Granted competition on Saturday will be tougher than it was last time, but after yesterday, I feel better about his prospects to take to dirt. 15-1 or more on Animal Kingdom to be draped in roses? Count me in.