Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Many of us dream of owning the ultimate racehorse; a vision of equine perfection that excels with each and every step upon a never ending route to glory but perfection is exceptionally hard to find, after all racehorses are rarely flawless, but in Animal Kingdom Team Valor have acquired a thoroughbred that has captured the hearts of many across the globe.
The story of Animal Kingdom is one that has encaptured many a heart and this final twist in the tale brings the five year old to British shores for a bold bid at acquiring royal glory with victory in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. On Tuesday the 18th of June, Graham Motion's team will lead Animal Kingdom into the iconic Ascot parade ring vying for favouritism in the contest run over a straight mile of the lucious Ascot turf course.
Many international raiders have come before Animal Kingdom, many have failed, and Animal Kingdom has the additional unfortunate situation of having to follow the year-prior dominance of Frankel in the very same race, but there is something about this son of Leroidesanimaux that brings excitement and anticipation ahead of the Queen Anne Stakes. A winner in North America and Asia, Animal Kingdom will bid to add a third continent to his resume with victory in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Turf, dirt, tapeta, polytrack - you name it he's won on it - and it is fitting that only moments before his entry into the paddock the crowd will be in full voice bellowing the line 'long to reign over us' as part of the national anthem. Indeed, with the versatility that Animal Kingdom has shown in his racing career he may yet reign over us for some time as a base for future generations to develop from the very gene pool he will create in his second career.
Britain is the final stop for Animal Kingdom and, unless Motion opts for futher British glories such as the Coral-Eclipse before his star shuttles to Australia, Royal Ascot will set the perfect scene for the exceptional racing career to terminate. With the achitercturally superb Ascot grandstand providing the backdrop, Animal Kingdom will canter past the stands en route to his final start with 45,000 eyes fixated on this intriguing thoroughbred, many for the first time, but it will not be Joel Rosario who will complete the partnership bidding for the perfect send off.
Motion's decision to replace Rosario was one which received a mixture of views from American shores, but it is a decision that has been carefully considered with a view to providing Animal Kingdom with his best possible chance of victory at Royal Ascot.
The Queen Anne Stakes is the opening contest at Royal Ascot each year, an explosion of top level equine perfection from the very opening which would also provide a Royal Ascot newcomer in the jockey ranks with a baptism of fire. The appointment of John Velazquez is one which has been made with careful consideration on providing Animal Kingdom with the most experienced jockey available. The appointment of a UK-based jockey is one that Motion could have taken, but with Velazquez familiar with both the course and the horse this is the perfect decision.
Motion is clear; His decision to replace Rosario - a jockey whom he believes is riding better than anyone else in the world right now - is a decision based on track experience alone. A unique racecourse, Ascot would provide Rosario with his first taste of a straight mile in a hotly contested affair. Velasquez however has been to Royal Ascot before, he has succeeded at the highest level in this country and knows how to perfectly ride the course. With a jockey such as Velasquez at his disposure, it would be folly for Motion to turn down that option purely based on Rosario being the man whom partnered Animal Kingdom to victory in the Dubai World Cup.
The critics will be loud in their opinions on Rosario's adaptability. Without a ride at Meydan before sauntering to victory on Animal Kingdom, Rosario did provide the perfect performance at Meydan and his subsequent consistent performances at the highest level further compliment his abilities, but Ascot is a unique challenge. Rosario has been slingshot ting bends all of his life, playing the perfect judgements over two turn miles, he is yet to experience a Royal Ascot straight mile and, unlike Meydan, will have no chance to experience and work on the cause prior to the Queen Anne Stakes.
Rosario will, according to reports, still attend Royal Ascot to partner the majority of Wesley Ward's string at Royal Ascot and if he were able to work on the course with as great a frequency as Animal Kingdom did in Meydan maybe he would be the call to get the mount on Animal Kingdom on June 18th, but by picking Velasquez the minor risk of Ascot inexperience is immediately eliminated.
This is Motion's darling of his stable and the greatest horse he admits he will ever train. Victory in the Kentucky Derby, a bold Triple Crown attempt, a Dubai World Cup and an exceptional Breeders Cup Mile second have all come from this star son of Leroidesanimaux but there is one notable success missing off the curriculum vitae of the trainer of the wonder horse.
Born in England, this is the first time that the Cambridge-born handler has had a globetrotting sensation good enough to return to the shores of his birth place. Success has been prevalent for Motion in America, but the trees on European shores have never bear fruit for Motion to grab with both hands.
With Animal Kingdom, Motion finally has the opportunity to return and to succeed in the country of his birth. In life we continue to hope and dream of returning to our homelands to showcase our abilities, few can blame Motion for planning for perfection in those circumstances.
Ascot now waits as Motion prepares to unleash his kingdom's power for a display of dominance which many hope will end with a thoroughly fitting victory. A satisfying homecoming for the a trainer whom America has embraced and taken in as one of their own with open arms.