JC / Railbird

Animal Kingdom

An American at Ascot

Regardless of how Animal Kingdom does in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot on Tuesday, his appearance is a win for American racing, writes Pat Cummings:

The fact that an intact Kentucky Derby winner is still racing, and successfully, is a massive boost to American racing, whether he’s been in America or not. The son of brilliant turf miler Leroidesanimaux is a winner on dirt, turf, and all-weather, and a G1 winner on two of those surfaces, while G1 placed on grass. While having started only eleven times in his career, it’s the last four starts on his ledger, from 2012 and 2013, that stand out – mostly because Kentucky Derby winners are so rarely seen around, let alone in the winner’s circle, in the years after their Derby tally.

The Queen Ann will be Animal Kingdom’s final race.

He went out for his last gallop this morning.

6/18/13 Update: Oh, too bad — an 11th place finish wasn’t the wished for exit, but the horse has delivered in enough big races — across continents and racing surfaces and years — for there to be no regrets. Thanks for the memories, Animal Kingdom. (Watch the Queen Anne Stakes replay.)

6/19/13 Addendum: Sure, blame the filly: “I could see him transform from a focused competitor to a sex machine” (PDF). One whiff of Elusive Kate in the paddock, and Animal Kingdom’s racing career was over, his stud career begun.

The Contenders

A few of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup contenders I’ve spotted around Santa Anita …

Animal Kingdom (Mile)

Shackleford (Mile)

Groupie Doll (Filly and Mare Sprint)

Sky Lantern (Juvenile Fillies Turf)

Jaycito (Marathon)

Game on Dude (Classic)

Richard’s Kid (Classic)

Ron the Greek (Classic)

Pool Play (Classic)

Dullahan (Turf)

Point of Entry (Turf)

Trinniberg (Sprint)

The Rule Breaker

The latest example of why the rules don’t matter: Animal Kingdom. Although Team Valor’s Kentucky Derby winning colt did run as a 2-year-old, he was only the second to win with four or fewer career starts, and he was the first since Needles in 1956 to win off a six-week layoff. He’s the fifth straight Derby winner to prep with only two starts as a 3-year-old, neither a Grade 1, and his Beyer speed figure of 103 is the lowest since Giacomo was given 100 in 2005. Animal Kingdom was also making his first start on dirt in the Kentucky Derby, coming off a win in the Spiral Stakes over the Polytrack at Turfway. I’ve argued here before, sometimes with stats, that synthetic surface-prepped horses are viable Derby contenders. Next year, such horses shouldn’t be throw-outs for anyone on the basis of surface.

Some photos from Saturday at Churchill …

Mucho Macho Man leaving the barn for the Derby.

Cheering for the Derby starters as they exit the gap.

Midnight Interlude and Shackleford waiting to begin the walk over.

The clubhouse crowd.

Animal Kingdom in the post parade.

Dialed In, the 5-1 favorite, after finishing eighth in the Derby.

Steve Asmussen and Corey Nakatani discussing Nehro’s second-place finish.

Animal Kingdom heading to the winner’s circle.