The energy was palpable, parking spaces close to the building non-existent and the prepping Animal Kingdom was waiting in the wings.
And the crowd waited until about 3:46 p.m., 15 minutes prior to the Grade 1 Kittens Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap until the first horse Film Making walked into the ring.
Next up was 2012’s Almost Horse of the Year, the unlucky Point of Entry, whose string of Grade 1s was snapped when he ran out of racetrack, a half-length behind Little Mike, at the end of the mile and a half Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Finally, Animal Kingdom entered the ring and fans actually moved into position along the walking ring fence, four to five deep, obstructing the view of the seated, but not caring in the least.
The Derby winner runs today.
So the day was packaged on TV and in other media as “Super Saturday featuring Animal Kingdom” and it worked--it worked big time.
All-sources handle was $17.5 million, compared to the 2012 Donn program’s $15 million.
On-track fans, estimated at just under 10,000 but appearing larger than opening day, wagered over $2 million, compared to $1.5 million last year.
A significant part of the wagering was the seven million dimes that was bet into the Rainbow Six pool chasing a carryover of $1.8 million.
Photo by Toni Pricci
For Team Valor's Barry Irwin the Next Stop is Meydan Racecourse on March 30
The horses made three turns of the ring--two is a little unusual; I can say I’ve never seen three—and each time the crowd greeted the Derby champion with applause.
Meanwhile, Point of Entry, which if he could talk would have wanted to send a message, was all business, full of controlled energy, with John Velazquez already in game-face mode.
Track announcer Larry Collmus introduced the field and the buzz from the walking ring had moved to the apron, the largest cheers reserved for the last horse in the parade.
The star was still making his entrance and, at once, an exit. Animal Kingdom has run his last race in America.
The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap was, after all, “only” a prep for the $10-milllion Dubai World Cup run on the synthetic Tapeta surface, ground over which he’s trained all his life at his Fair Hill base.
If he runs well there, it’s on to Ascot in June and then on to the Southern Hemisphere for the breeding season in September.
If there was any message yesterday it’s that a Derby winner, especially one with a cool name, is magic. All the Derby winner needs to do is to keep racing.
And Animal Kingdom has done that despite two interruptions because of injury.
But Point of Entry ruined his day the way Little Mike ruined Point of Entry’s more than three months ago. But all Animal Kingdom lost was a horse race.
Replays will show that yesterday’s run was a perfect mid-moving speed prep for Dubai.
Having one horse beaten after an opening half-mile in a pokey :50.52, Joel Rosario shot up the fence with Animal Kingdom to join the pacesetter with Point of Entry sitting right off the pair three wide.
Velazquez had his mount keep pace while losing ground on the turn but asked Point of Entry for run at headstretch and the 5-year-old Dynaformer obliged in a big way, taking the lead in mid-stretch and drawing out to a 1-1/4 length win.
Both these top class runners put on quite a show in the stretch. Turf fractions, always suspect when the temporary rail is out—set at 108 feet—the final three furlongs were run in an astounding :33.76. However, seeing was believing.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
...Meanwhile, Shug McGaughey Made His Point in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap
“It was kind of fun to watch. The race was getting publicity and [although] we had to push a little on the far turn.”
Did I make up a little for last fall’s Breeders’ Cup disappointment? “I’ve had of few [disappointing results], like Easy Goer at this track in the Breeders’ Cup.
“But I’m very pleased with the horse, winning a grade one at a mile and an eighth is good for his career. I’m very glad to be here today.”
Most people were.
Coming Sunday the Donn wrap: A Star Is Born