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Four Reasons Animal Kingdom Won the Derby

Animal Kingdom captured one of the most wide-open Kentucky Derbys in years with a powerful run, stamping himself head and shoulders above the other 18 runners.  Were we all wrong that the race was wide open?  

Or did we miss some clues about Animal Kingdom that were right there for all to see?  So, the question immediately becomes, was this Derby winner a fluke or is Animal Kingdom the real deal?

It’s always easier to look back on the race with hindsight, but this exercise also helps us determine whether or not Animal Kingdom will continue his winning ways in Baltimore. 

So, here are four reasons why Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby:

4) Animal Kingdom was working out great   

Animal Kingdom had a couple terrific workouts leading up to the Derby.  This is critical because the works signaled he was in top form and potentially sitting on a big race. 

Archarcharch - :59 2/5 @ CD

Stay Thirsty – 1:00 B @ CD

Decisive Moment - :47 2/5 @ CD (sloppy)

Pants on Fire - :47 4/5 @ CD (sloppy)

Mucho Macho Man - :1:00 2/5 @ CD; :58 1/5 @ GP

Shackleford - :58 4/5 @ CD

Midnight Interlude – 1:13 3/5 @ CD (good)

Animal Kingdom – 1:13 B @ CD; :59 1/5 @ Kee

Soldat – :59 @ PmM

Now, granted, these 9 horses represent half the field, but they are the right half of the field.  Especially considering that they filled up 3 of the top 4 spots with Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford. 

Now, since Animal Kingdom had never raced on dirt, a lot of people would like to look at his one dirt work as a good work and say he liked the dirt – but we won’t go that far.  Let’s just say he was working great and leave it at that.

3) The outside was the right part of the track

On Derby Day, the outside of the track was the better part of the track.  That was a theme we say all day long on the main track.  Here are the dirt race winners and the chart caller’s comments: 

# Conditions Distance Winner Odds Comment
Starter Allow 7f Uncle Pink 5-1 "reeled in the leaders through the turn four wide…"
2 Allowance 1 1/16 Worldly 5-2 "dug in tenaciously to turn back an inside challenge…"
5 Allow Opt Clm 7f Goodtimehadbyall 10-1 "gained momentum four wide mid turn…"
7 Humana Distaff 7f Sassy Image 16-1 "circled six wide into the stretch…" 
9 Churchill Downs 7f Aikenite 13-1 "reserved three wide, angled out six wide…" 

Still not convinced?  Look at the first six place finishers in the Derby.  All six came from the nine outside post positions.  That’s somewhat remarkable.   That means that 6 of the 9 horses in post positions 11-19 filled out the top six spots, and posts 1-10 filled out 10 of the last 13 spots.  Wow. 


2) Perfect positioning on a slow pace by John Velazquez  

This year’s Derby pace was absolutely crawling compared to other Derbys this century.   How slow?  The half-mile and three-quarter mile and one mile times were more than a full second slower than any Kentucky Derby since 2000. 

1/4 1/2 3/4 1 mile Finish
Animal Kingdom fast 23.24 48.63 1:13.40 1:37.49 2:02.04
Super Saver  sloppy 22.63 46.16 1:10.58 1:37.65 2:04.45
Mine That Bird sloppy 22.98 47.23 1:12.09 1:37.49 2:02.66
Big Brown fast :23 1/5 :47 1:11 1:36 2/5 2:01 4/5
Street Sense fast :22 4/5 :46 1/5 1:11 1:37 2:02
Barbaro fast :22  3/5 :46 1:10 4/5 1:37 2:01 1/5
Giacomo fast :22.28 :45.38 1:09.59 1:35.88 2:02.75
Smarty Jones sloppy :22.99 :46.73 1:11.80 1:37.35 2:04.06
Funny Cide fast :22.78 :46.23 1:10.48 1:35.75 2:01.19
War Emblem fast :23.25 :47.04 1:11.75 1:36.70 2:01.13
Monarchos fast :22.25 :44.86 1:09.25 1:35.00 1:59.97
Fusaichi Pegasus fast :22.47 :45.99 1:09.99 1:35.74 2:01.12

Still, the way the main track was playing today, it was setting up for closers, and the Derby frequently sets up for a closer with the mile and a quarter distance.  So, it was a perfect ride by John Velazquez to allow Animal Kingdom to maintain his closing style, but without dropping too far back.  Although he was in 12th position at both the ¼ and ½ mile calls, he was within six lengths of the lead each time. 

For those deep closers that got too far back, they had way too much work to do to make up ground on the front runners after this slow pace.   None of the six horses in the back of the pack early could dent the top six at the end. 

1) Trainer Graham Motion had him perfectly pointed for the Derby

So how do we say this horse was pointed for this race?  Simple.  He came in the race with his third race of the year.  His third race off of the layoff.  He was a horse on the improve who ran big in a Derby prep in his second race of the year.  Then he was training great to keep improving in his third race of the year.

Is that the right way to train a horse for the Derby?  Hard to say, we’ll leave that up to the trainers.  But, the important point is that this horse was pointed for this race specifically.  How many other horses entered in the Derby were pointed to this race as the third race of the year?  Just two.  The Pletcher horses, Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, who of course, didn’t get to run.

Every other horse in the race had a string of races leading up to Derby as somewhere along the way the connections were trying to learn how good the horse was.  Five of the key players: Dialed In, Nehro, Archarcharch, Soldat and Midnight Interlude all were running in January for their connections to determine if they had a Derby horse.  


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Older Comments about Four Reasons Animal Kingdom Won the Derby...

Paul - these races come down to so many factors (pace, track bias, breeding, form cycle) and when they are all nearly even like this year, everything is magnified. All day at Belmont, you could not close on the dirt. So it is no surprise that the closers did not fare well. That eliminated a few right there. Perhaps Brilliant Speed wins on a fairer track.
handicapping triple crown this year like finding winner in 5000 claimer three times in a row . bunch of just average three year olds someone tell me how the 1a wins the race before the belmont had not raced in 11 months wins grade1 at mile and quarter Must be greatest training feat ever!
he was the best horse at that point of the season,his peak race of 103 in ky proves it,he was my pick.He got a badly timed ride at pimlico,on a speed favoring track. I dont believe he or shack will win the belmont.
no juice-no juice-no juice-no juice-people act like if they get rid of Dutrow they'll easily clean up the game-last week I bet Shack and at the mile I was ready to cash my tickets,notice any difference today? and no AK wold not have caught him in another 1/16 today.after 40 yrs I learned a little
now give me four reasons why he did not win ???????
Talk about doing everything right and then have it pay off. He's still fresh as a daisy and should be perfectly seasoned. How long the animal stays at that level is now totally up to the horse. We all know form happens in cycles and no one can predict how long a horse will hold top form.
He showed what he could do on the dirt...
BIG BROWN was a freakish good fast horse ,,,this year alot of above average horses
all the factoids are nice but for me it comes down to trying to figure who can get that extra 1/8 mile...this year I had Brilliant Speed in the mix because I liked his pediree even though he had those two bad dirt starts.I completely overlooked AK but I really was high on ArchIII and MI and Nehro
The Exterminator stat may be a little over used since Big Brown did it off three starts in '08.
who is last horse to win derby with 6 week lay off.....needles 1956 last to win derby with only 4 starts exterminator 1918 last horse towin derby without ever to run on dirt ANIMAL KINGDOM VERY HARD TO BACK
that's not true and i do not believe that theories, main reasons his pedigree , both dad and mom had very good long distance runner, i study very carefully, and i watch his last vedio and way he beat the Decisive moment by 4 lengths without too much challenge, although the time was 1-52 sec, but i regarded as easy winning effort, although he ran on artificial ground, but a horse win so effortlessly, can go on mud, that's not the factor, i selected 3 horses at the begining for derby 1. Dialed In 2. Nehro 3. Animal Kingdom, simple because i like the horse who come from behind to win the races. Nehro after winning come from behind, he adjusted the style of running in the Louisiana Derby coming from midpack, and Animal kingdom did not allow any horse go away from him taking too much pace, like Dialed In, also the first owner of Animal Kingdom ,had a horse called Captain Boudigit who ran 1997 Kentucky Derby with Alex Solis on mount and got beat by nose with Silver Charm, i read this artcle just before the 2011 K.D. and i have convinced that Animal Kingdom will on a march for this year derby, that's why i select Animal Kingdom, but believing in Dialed In, every things went wrong for me. Animal kingdom is not fake or won by fluke, it was real and true, it has speed and very strong stamina because of his sire , it is a strong sire according to German racing cultures. i always take a long look of any German pedigree.
i picked him to win the derby,i projected a pos 99 to 101 beyer the next best was an unlikly 97 or 98 for nehro
better than big brown, war front, smarty jones, to name a few, i don't think so, i hope animal kingdom wins the preakness, so i can score with a longshot in the belmont while everyone jumps on his bandwagon
Awww, crawling pace.. Dialed In still the best 3 year old in the contry.
I agree with el kabong. If Motion enters him in the final 2 legs he has an excellent chance. This horse is a lot better than most of you think. Dig a little deeper into his pedigree and take a closer look at his past performances.
after watching the Spiral Stakes a couple of times before the race I knew AK had a good shot at taking the KD. go watch it and see the move he makes on the turn. that was a Derby type move if I've ever seen one. really like this colt's chances at Pimlico, but Astrology, MMM, etc. will be a tough field to beat.
:) Ruby, I agree with you. As I said, I back the SuperScreener and it's architect. Best KD handicapping product that I've seen and I'll be purchasing next year. Pro-bono marketed it hard! Can't like'em all, but couldn't see tossing Shackleford completely. Maybe next iteration of SuperScreener includes a "live for 5th" category...since there's an elusive SuperHigh5 wager. Again, solid work touching the trifecta MS, congrats to all that saw a profit, but the SuperScreener will have better years is all I'm sayin (not to say 2011 was a bust). After all, it's not the "Tri Screener
:) Ruby, I agree with you. As I said, I back the SuperScreener and it's architect. Best KD handicapping product that I've seen and I'll be purchasing next year. Pro-bono marketed it hard! Can't like'em all, and there were some very solid horses on the
This is a very good analysis of the race. I would just add one other thing, he was one of the few horses bred to be at his best at 1 1/4 miles. Most horses today are bred to be milers or maybe 1 1/8 at best. The key to picking the Derby winner in this era of racing is finding the horse that can excel at the classic distances.

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