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Breeders' Cup 2017
HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

To Return or Not to Return

After a couple months of indecisiveness, trainer Graham Motion finally made a plan for Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and stuck to it. Back in December when Animal Kingdom first started posting serious works following his recuperation period, Motion indicated that his charge would likely make his return in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, run on February 11. When February rolled around, though, Motion changed his mind and decided to shoot for the Tampa Bay Stakes on February 25 instead. In an article published by the Bloodhorse, Motion stated, "The Tampa Bay will allow him enough works to be fit enough to start back. Any of these earlier races would have been pushing it." At the beginning of this week, Motion once again changed his mind and entered the colt in a 1 1/16 mile allowance optional claiming race on the grass at Gulfstream Park. Again, timing was key for Motion, who told DRF's Mike Welsch that a six-week turnaround (between a prep and the Dubai World Cup) was more favorable than a five-week turnaround. Motion was also worried that Tampa Bay Downs' turf could turn up wet next week and hinder his plans.


I seem to remember that the G1 Donn Handicap had been a possibility for Animal Kingdom at one point, and, if that is the case, then the colt's comeback race was downgraded from a possible Grade 1 start to an AlwOC start. Admittedly, I thought that the Donn was overly ambitious for Animal Kingdom's return to the track. Uncle Mo's comeback came in the G1 King's Bishop, but that was after just a four and a half month layoff and an illness, not an eight and a half month layoff and a major injury. So I was pleased when Motion changed his mind about the Donn. However, I was a bit puzzled when Motion decided to skip the TurfCap and wait for the Tampa Bay Stakes and downright baffled when he ultimately opted for this weekend's AlwOC race. 


If the goal for Animal Kingdom all along had been a comeback in an allowance race of some sort, I would have been perfectly content with this weekend's race. However, that was not the plan, and the constant indecision has me slightly worried. Deep down, I know that Motion would not run his charge if he was not absolutely sure that the colt was ready to run, but I cannot help but wonder what has really prompted the change of plans. The ultimate goal of the colt's comeback has always been the Dubai World Cup, another decision that I am not entirely happy with. To me, running Animal Kingdom in the World Cup so soon after his return is so overly ambitious that I cannot come up with words adequate enough to describe how I feel. But if that is the plan we are sticking with, then an allowance race as a prep makes no sense whatsoever. So why the change of plans? Obviously the colt's health is not the problem since he is entered in this race. Fitness, perhaps? That seems to be the logical answer, especially since Motion implied as much in his interview with the Bloodhorse. Which leads me to my ultimate point. If Animal Kingdom's fitness is in question, then why is he still being pointed to the Dubai World Cup???


Animal Kingdom is an exceptional horse. Though I have not always been his biggest fan, I can see that he has had a career to be proud of so far. Before his disastrous run in last year's Belmont Stakes, the Leroidesanimaux colt had not finished worse than second in any of his races. He still managed to finish a respectable sixth in a field of twelve despite bumping with Mucho Macho Man, stumbling badly, and exiting the race with an injury to his left hind leg. I have no doubt that he will have as good a year this year as he did last year, but I do think that his return is questionable in regards to the ultimate goal. Since he is going to Dubai, a start in the TurfCap would have been more beneficial to him in terms of competition. Even a start in the Tampa Bay Stakes would have been better than this weekend's AlwOC race. Tampa Bay's surface would have been a better preparation for Dubai's surface than the lightning quick Gulfstream surface. Even better, a prep over a tapeta surface would have been ideal. Instead, Animal Kingdom will start in an AlwOC race and will have four to six weeks to acclimate the Meydan surface depending on when the team ships to Dubai. Maybe that will be enough. Maybe it will not. Only time will tell.


I wish Animal Kingdom and Team Valor the best of luck. Obviously Motion knows the colt better than I do. As far as trainers go, he is one of the best, and he always seem to make plans according to what is in the best interests of the horse. If he thinks this weekend's race is a sufficient enough prep for the World Cup, then who am I to question that. Training horses is not about making the fans happy but doing what is best for the horse. I may not be happy with Motion's itinerary for Animal Kingdom, but if it gets him where he needs to be, then I will happily eat my words.


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Older Comments about To Return or Not to Return...

Have seen the same thing over and over and over> NEVER bet a layoff first back from any thing close to a serious injury...The old expression THEY NEVER COME BACK is about 85% true
Animal Kingdom looked good in his return. He did not face the toughest of fields, but the race was certainly a nice stepping stone. I am eager to see how it goes from here.
Animal Kingdom is a flat out bet against today
I agree. That track is not kind to closers usually. Stalkers have much more success on the Tapeta in Dubai.
Past runnings show that this race has no pace. I'd pick a stalker/lead horse, but when the best of the world meet anything can happen.
it seems like a good prep in my opinion because it could be a good confidence builder and it wont be to strenious on him
I have no doubts that Team Valor will only do what's best for AK. I am just not sure about the prep plan. It does not make a whole lot of sense to me, but that's just my opinion. AK will give it his best shot no matter what, though.
I can't wait to see him in Dubai (if that is where he ends up). His workouts since injury have been phenomenal, and he is in great shape. And as many have stated, Team Valor and Graham Motion are always going to put their horses well being ahead of everything else. If he is not ready for Dubai, then he simply won't be going. End of story.
Team Valor and Graham Motion, respect their horses, know how to make history and prep for a targeted goal. We'll see how this plan plays out. AK seldom disapoints and his effort never disapoints.
I'm betting a lot of mea culpas will be due in a month and change. Graham is no fool.
I would rather see them work him up to 1 1/16th, especially after having the serious injury. Sending him to Dubai is all about the money and less regard for him. IMO
Dubai would be great, Chris, but I just don't see this as an adequate prep for the World Cup. Just my opinion.
This is obviously a prep for AK to jump to bigger and better things! I dunno, I'd kinda like to see him in Dubai!

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.


Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.


An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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