HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, will make his first start of 2012 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday afternoon.

Trainer Graham Motion entered last year’s Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old in a $60,000 turf allowance, carded as the fifth race on an 11-race program. Owned by Team Valor International, Animal Kingdom has been training strongly at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s state-of-the-art training center in Boynton Beach, for his 2012 debut.

“I’m very excited to get him back, and now that we’ve entered him I’m extremely anxious,” Motion said. “I have been pleasantly surprised how quickly he’s come around,” Motion said. “I think he got a good base in him at Fair Hill before he came down here. Once he got down here we’ve gotten some serious works on the grass.”

Animal Kingdom’s return will come in a 1 1/16-mile race for non-winners of three races other than maiden, claiming or starter. Estimated post time will be 2:30 p.m. Saturday’s race is designed by Motion as a prep for a scheduled start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.

Animal Kingdom launched his 3-year-old campaign last March at Gulfstream Park, where he finished second in a turf allowance with a late-closing effort that was compromised by a slow start. That performance encouraged Motion and Team Valor International to start their colt in the $500,000 Spiral (G3) over Turfway Park’s synthetic track less than a month later, and the Kentucky-bred colt responded with a 2 ¾-length triumph that gave him more than enough graded-stakes earnings to qualify for a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.

Following a brilliant workout at Churchill Downs, the decision was made to run Animal Kingdom for the first time on a dirt track in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Leroidesanimaux ran back to his workout and zipped through the stretch to score by 2 ¾ lengths and join his connections in the winner’s circle.

Two weeks later, Animal Kingdom made a valiant effort to catch victorious Shackleford in the Preakness, falling a half-length short after trailing the field early. Following a troubled sixth in the Belmont Stakes, it was discovered that he had suffered a fracture in his left hind leg that required surgery and knocked him out of action for the rest of the year.