HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 18, 2012--For Animal Kingdom and his people, the comeback from the injury he sustained way back in June, the 2011 Belmont Stakes, could have have gone better.
A Tardy Start...
Photo by: Toni Pricci
A Tardy Start...
It's the way you draw it up over coffee in the shed after the morning's work is done, inasmuch as it's possible to make the best laid plans in this game.

When things go well, you take a breath and move on to the next goal. And, so, for the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, his comeback in a non-winners of 3 allowance condition was simply perfect.

"When you have a race that's set up for you, I obviously would have been disappointed if he hadn't won. This was the best [alternative] for us. He needed a race. But you still have to go out there and win it."

Customarily, Animal Kingdom broke slowly but rather than tuck in behind, Johnny Velazquez, who was about to ride three winners of the first of five races contested, settled him outside Monument Hill, the strong second favorite given the best chance to make upset as he tracked the slow pace.

Royal Hill set the leisurely pace and reached the half-mile pole in :49.44. Sixth of six but within five lengths of the lead, Velazquez, feeling the pace, made a three-wide brush to reach an attending position outside Royal Hill and Bell by the Ridge.
Leading to a fast finish
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Leading to a fast finish
Content to sit three wide throughout the stretch turn, Velazquez asked Animal Kingdom to respond--a second move--and he did so willingly. The Derby tandem took the lead with a furlong remaining at which point Monument Hill was attempting to cut into the margin. The threat was short-lived.

When Larry Collmus introduced Animal Kingdom as he approached the winners' circle, whoops and cheers went up from the folks lining the circle three deep. "Dubai, baby, Dubai," yelled one, followed by chants of several, "USA! USA! USA!"

When Motion was told of the chants, he smiled broadly.
and a return to the winners' circle
Photo by: Toni Pricci
and a return to the winners' circle
"That's pretty cool," said the trainer, who before the race said "emotions are pretty high, what he's done for me..." his voice trailing off.

"That's the thing about the Derby winner. He's the people's horse. Everybody feels like they have a piece of him."

And, so, two more works and it's off to Dubai, likely arriving about two weeks in advance of the March 31 Dubai World Cup.


Timely Writer II

The Kentucky Derby winner runs today!

No, that wouldn't be this year's Derby winner--unless he's running at Golden Gate FIelds at 7:45 EST tonight--but rather last year's Derby champion Animal Kingdom.

Dubai, here we come?

Well, that's the idea, anyway, It's six weeks until the $10 million Dubai World Cup, perfect spacing if you're looking for a prep race, which is exactly what Animal Kingdom needs and trainer Graham Motion wants.

It's a "non-winners of 3" allowances, pretty standard fare back in the day, but those races don't fill so much anymore. Hell, trainers are going from maiden or "non-winners of one other than..." right into stakes these days.

Originally, Animal Kingdom was going to run in the Tampa Bay Stakes next weekend, just like Uncle Mo was supposed to last year until the Timely Writer distance was shroted up to a mile around one turn and Uncle Mo and Todd Pletcher stayed right here.

Which got president and general manager Tim Ritvo and racing secretary Larry Bork to thinking: Hey, about about a race where the surface, distance and conditions fit Animal Kingdom's needs perfectly.


"Management here has been very accomodating," Motion was saying on television the other day. "They opened the turf course at Palm Meadows a number of times [when it appeared that wouldn't happen].

"Six weeks is better timing for us, leaves us more options in case we had rain next week at Tampa. Fair Hill [Maryland] and Palm Meadows has been a great help to me. It's an amazing turf course."

Animal Kingdom will meet five rivals in today's fifth race at 1-1/16 miles on the turf. Scheduled post time is 2:25 p.m. EST. Conditions are fast and firm.

Man On a Mission

This week, as Peter Walder watched Force Freeze in his final preparations for the G2 Gulfstream Park Sprint Handicap, his seven-furlong and season's debut, he was haunted by the memory of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Sprint in which he finished second to eventual sprint champion Amazombie.

"I watch it two or three times a week, he ran so good, I can't believe he lost.

Today, Walder's very fast 7-year-old gelding took the first step on the road back to the Breeders' Cup Sprint with an authoritative 3-3/4 length victory over local sprint handicapper Troilus. It was another 1-1/4 lengths back to the consistent Capt. Candyman Can.

"It set up great," said Walder. He came out of there and [Paco Lopez] was standing straight up in the saddle. Thank God somebody went and he sat--the really picked it up, :44, and he [ran] just off the track record."

On a surface that was glib throughout the afternoon, Force Freeze's stalk-and-pounce victory was timed in 1:20.71, 26/100s behind Hilda's Passion who set the standard of 1:20.45 last year.

"He's so fast out of the gate I was able to get perfect position," said Lopez. "He was going so easily, and when I asked him he just ran even faster."

Does this take any of the sting out of the Breeders' Cup placing?

"I've been coming here a long time and it meansa lot to win this race at Gulfstream Park, but the Breeders' Cup is the Breeders' Cup.

I won't get over [that loss] and there's only one way to erase [the memory]: Go back and win it; this was the first step."