Barry Irwin, Team Valor’s founder and CEO, said a bid for the $1 million Preakness (GI), the second jewel of the Triple Crown, was likely – but not yet definite.
The 1 1Ž2-mile Belmont Stakes (GI), the third jewel of the Triple Crown, is a strong option regardless of whether the homebred son of Leroidsanimaux (BRZ) runs in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
“The Belmont is the kind of race that this horse is bred to win, let’s face it,” Irwin said.
The soft-spoken Motion was still trying to process the events of the previous 24 hours – and especially those that immediately followed his win in the Run for the Roses – when he arrived at his Churchill Downs barn at 7 a.m. (all times Eastern) on Sunday.
“I don’t know what happened between 6:30 and 9 o’clock,” Motion said. “Somebody said to me it was 9 o’clock and I said, ‘What happened to the last two and a half hours?’ It was extraordinary.”
The victory by Animal Kingdom – the first success in the Kentucky Derby for Motion, Irwin and jockey John Velazquez – capped a roller coaster week that started with the discovery of an injury that knocked Motion’s other Derby 137 hope, Julian and Dianne Cotter’s Wood Memorial (GI) winner Toby’s Corner, out of the race.
But as Saturday’s renewal of the Derby approached, the British-born Motion was pleased with the progress of Animal Kingdom.
“I had a great feeling about running this horse this week,” Motion said. “He’s done so well and I just thought if he could handle the switchover of turf form to dirt form – I didn’t know if he was a good enough horse to do it. But I had really good feeling about running this horse.”
Animal Kingdom made a beautiful transition to dirt after running either on synthetic Polytrack surfaces or grass in his four previous races. The Team Valor colt became the first horse in the 137-year history of the Derby to win the race in his debut on traditional dirt.
“I think a really good horse, and I think some of the good horses in the past, some of the best horses were ones who were able to handle both (grass and dirt),” Motion said. “He appears to be one of those great horses that can handle both. Maybe he is better on the grass, but he’s also a horse that can handle the dirt. Brilliant horses can do that.
“I have a lot of confidence in this horse. He’s the whole package, I guess, to use a term that’s probably overused. He’s got a tremendous disposition and is just a really brilliant horse. He handled everything so well yesterday. Johnny said he was so relaxed that it made Johnny relax. He said he’d never been so relaxed in a race like this before as he was on this horse yesterday.”
Irwin said there were 20 members in the Team Valor partnership that owns Animal Kingdom. He was asked by one journalist how much the Kentucky Derby victory might have enhanced the colt’s value.
“I can tell you that we sold a small interest in him two weeks before the race based on $2 million (in estimated value),” Irwin said.
And Animal Kingdom’s value following his win in America’s greatest race?
“More than $2 million,” Irwin said. “I have no idea, to tell you the truth. The thing about a horse like this is he’s got a different kind of pedigree than Americans are used to. In order for him to really be worth a lot of money, he’s got to go on and do something more than just winning the Derby. I mean the Derby’s big. It’s the biggest race there is. But breeders are very picky, skeptical people and he doesn’t have a fashionable pedigree. So he’s got to become a phenomenal racehorse in order to become worth a whole lot of money.
“If he won the Triple Crown, then there’d be no question. But if he wins just the Preakness, would that make him an automatic hit as a stallion? I don’t know.”
Motion said Animal Kingdom would leave Churchill Downs early Tuesday to return to his base at Maryland’s Fair Hill training center. If the Derby winner ships to Baltimore for the Preakness, that journey would come late in Preakness week, perhaps as late as Friday.
After leaving the Kentucky Derby Winner’s Party at the Kentucky Derby Museum, Irwin and Motion and their families joined Velazquez for Derby evening at the “Night of Silk” party at the Galt House, a first-year fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
On the morning after the biggest victory of his career as an owner and operator of the Team Valor International syndicate, Irwin relished Animal Kingdom’s accomplishment. But he worked to keep the achievement in perspective.
“I know everybody wants me to say my whole life was changed, but I feel exactly the same. My major comment would be I’m just happy to own a horse this good. That’s what means something to me. I’m not doing this just to make a whole lot of money. It is so tough to make money in the horse business it’s not even funny. I’m doing it because it’s in my blood and I love it. It’s all I’ve ever done.
“We’ve made some history, and I like making history. It means something to me. I started writing a book once, and I guess I’m going to have to write the damn book now.”
NEHRO – Zayat Stables LLC’s Nehro came out of his Kentucky Derby runner-up effort in good shape, trainer Steve Asmussen told reporters Sunday morning.
“We’re very pleased with him,” Asmussen said. “He’s himself. He ate up last night and seems pretty good this morning.”
Owner Ahmed Zayat said soon after visiting Nehro in his stall that the May 21 Preakness Stakes (GI) remains under consideration but the June 11 Belmont Stakes (GI) is a more likely spot for his next start.
“Let’s put it this way,” Zayat said, “if you looked at him right now you’d think you’d be out of your mind not to run in Baltimore. It’s more probable we’d aim for the Belmont but I guess we are still possible for the Preakness.”
A run in Baltimore would be Nehro’s fourth race in eight weeks after runner-up finishes in the March 26 Louisiana Derby (GII), the April 16 Arkansas Derby (GI) and the Kentucky Derby.
“To look at him today you’d think he could run tomorrow,” Zayat said. “He grazed for 45 minutes after the race. Today he’s very playful, playing with us and kissing the kids. He came out of it in very fine condition.”
Nehro’s ultimate goal for the year, though, according to Zayat, will be the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs, and the owner said decisions about his status for Baltimore and New York will be made bearing that in mind.
Asmussen was asked about the challenge of getting a horse to perform as consistently strong as Nehro has with only two weeks leading up to his two most recent starts.
“It’s as hard as you make it,” Asmussen said. “Right now I think the circumstances dictated getting here. The Louisiana Derby was a big stretch off his maiden race and I thought he ran respectable but he needed to validate it to continue on that path. And then after the Arkansas Derby all of the focus was on the Kentucky Derby, which we’re barely getting over.”
MUCHO MACHO MAN – Trainer Kathy Ritvo loaded her Kentucky Derby third-place finisher onto a van bound for Belmont Park on Sunday morning after reporting that Mucho Macho Man was feeling fine.
“I just wanted him to run well. This was a 20-horse field. It’s only going to get easier from here, because there are no more 20 horse fields,” Ritvo said. “He kept himself out of trouble and Rajiv (Maragh) did a good job. He was running at the end. I was happy with his training and everything that went with it.”
Ritvo, who will have a 20-horse division at Belmont, expects Mucho Macho Man to return in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.
“We’ll have to see him the next couple days, how he’s eating, how his legs are and what his attitude is. He looks good so far,” Ritvo said. “We’re strongly thinking about it as long as everything is good.”
Mucho Macho Man closed well through the stretch to miss catching Nehro by neck for second money and victorious Animal Kingdom by three lengths. The son of Macho Uno was coming off a six-week layoff from a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (GII) on March 26, the same day Animal Kingdom won the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) in his final Derby prep.
“For us it was necessary if we wanted to run in the Triple Crown to give him some time to recuperate,” Ritvo said. “We’ll have a fresh horse going into these next two races.”
SHACKLEFORD – Fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Shackleford spent part of Sunday morning walking the shedrow at Barn 4, showing no ill effects from his pace-setting effort on Saturday.
Next up for the colt owned by Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge is most likely a trip to Baltimore and the Preakness on May 21.
“He came out of the race fine, but I’m worn out,” said Dale Romans, who finished second in the Preakness last year with First Dude. “He will go back to the track Wednesday and leave for Baltimore the following Tuesday.”
MASTER OF HOUNDS – “Bright as a button.”
That was the reply traveling head lad T.J. Comerford offered about Master of Hounds’ condition following his fifth-place finish in Saturday’s $2,171,800 Kentucky Derby.
Comerford was overseeing the loading of his handsome colt on to a van at Barn 45 just before 8 a.m. for a trip to Louisville International Airport and a flight Sunday evening back to Ireland. The son of Kingmambo was going to have to stand a five-hour quarantine prior to being allowed to board the flight.
“We were quite pleased with his effort,” Comerford stated. “The rider (Garrett Gomez) said at first he wasn’t liking all the kickback. First time he’s ever encountered that, so that was understandable. But by the time they got to the backstretch he’d gotten into it (the race). He closed well and gave a very good account of himself. His effort was first rate.
“There was no pace in the race. We were hoping for more of that, but it didn’t happen. That wasn’t to our advantage. But all in all, a very good effort.”
Master of Hounds, owned by Mrs. John Magnier, was beaten a little more than five lengths for the top prize and “finished with good energy,” according to the official Equibase chart of the race. He earned $60,000 for his run.
The Kentucky-bred had finished second in his only other 2011 start in the UAE Derby (GII) in Dubai on March 26. Last fall he came to Churchill Downs and ran sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII). Could another return to Kentucky be in the cards for the bay this fall?
“We’ll see,” Comerford said.
SANTIVA – Tom Walters’ Santiva came out of the Derby in good shape according to trainer Eddie Kenneally.
“He came out of the race fine,” Kenneally said of Santiva, who finished sixth, beaten a little more than five lengths. “I thought he got a good trip and ran well.”
Kenneally added that no decision had been made on the next start for Santiva, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) here last fall.
BRILLIANT SPEED – Live Oak Plantation’s Brilliant Speed left his temporary home in Barn 42 around 9 o’clock Sunday morning to board a van for flight to New York and home base of trainer Tom Albertrani.
“He came out of the race fine and he is good this morning,” assistant trainer Dan Blacker said as he led Brilliant Speed from the barn.
“I was really happy with his race,” Albertrani said. “The pace was a little slow, but he closed a lot of ground and only got beat by 5 1Ž2 lengths.”
Brilliant Speed, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, is not expected to run back in the Preakness.
DIALED IN – Trainer Nick Zito reported that Robert LaPenta’s Dialed In came out of his disappointing eighth-place finish in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby in good condition. Favored at 5-1, the son of Mineshaft trailed the field after six furlongs, during which pacesetter Shackleford was clocked in a slow 1:13.40, before closing well through the stretch.
“I wasn’t too happy. I looked to (son) Alex and said, ‘I think we’re in trouble here. We had a plan all along, and we stuck to the plan. (Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) did what he was supposed to do. When (track announcer) Mark Johnson said, ‘Dialed In got away bad,’ I was surprised, because he’s good in the gate and has been getting away good all the time. So that cost us a couple lengths there,” Zito said. “The race unfolded and he was in his normal position – last. Like Julien said, they didn’t come back. Once they did 13-and-change, that was tough to do. But he still tried to come on, he came with his run and only got beat 7 1Ž2 lengths.”
Zito said the plan was to go on to Pimlico Race Course with Dialed In, the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) and Florida Derby (GI) winner who is eligible to collect a $5.5 million bonus with a victory in the Preakness Stakes (GI) on May 21.
“I spoke to Bob and went over everything. He’s determined. He’s built this house and it’s only half done, so we have to finish the job. He wants to do it, and it’s good enough for me,” the Hall of Fame trainer said.
Zito won the Preakness in 1996 with Louis Quatorze, who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
“I might have made a mistake not going with Ice Box last year,” said Zito, who bypassed the Derby with his 2010 Derby runner-up. “You may say, ‘you didn’t make a mistake with Birdstone not going,’ but every horse is different. This horse, knock wood, might benefit from wheeling him right back.”
Zito said shipping plans to Baltimore are not definite.
“I’m just going day by day and make sure we’re doing everything right,” he said. “We’ll play it by ear, but it’s a good possibility we’ll stay here to the end.”
PANTS ON FIRE – George and Lori Hall’s homebred Pants On Fire “bled enough to say it was significant” from the exertion put forth in a ninth-place effort, trainer Kelly Breen said Sunday morning.
“One of the things we’re working on is his immune system,” Breen said. “We were staying on top of his lungs coming into this race so it’s a bit of a setback to say we have to work on him. Coming off a mile-and-a-quarter race it’s tough to say he’s not fit now, but you have to start from the inside out and heal him up. He’ll probably be going back to the track soon but he’ll just be doing it nice and easy.”
That said, the May 21 Preakness Stakes is almost certainly out of the question for Pants On Fire.
“As of right now we’d have to have a miraculous recovery,” Breen said. “We’re about 99 percent that we’re not going to go. Right now I’d say the main objective – being in New Jersey and being a Jersey-based trainer – is to get him prepped and ready for the Haskell (Invitational on July 31). The Haskell has a series of prep races so we’ll see how he is and when he’s going to be ready.”
Breen was happy with the trip Pants On Fire got under 23-year-old Rosie Napravnik – whose popularity undoubtedly helped make her mount the second choice in the wagering – especially considering it was the Derby.
“There wasn’t too much to fault,” Breen said. “The pace wasn’t too, too hot and we have a healthy horse now after the race, leg-wise. I’m content with what happened and to move forward.
“He didn’t get beat that far, he never stopped trying. He has a lot of fight in him.”
Pants On Fire will leave Churchill Downs by van at about noon today and is expected to arrive at Breen’s Monmouth Park barn around 7 a.m. Monday.
“We’ll take him back home to a big old fluffy stall and see how he is in a couple of days.”
TWICE THE APPEAL – Twice the Appeal, who finished 10th in Kentucky Derby 137 under Calvin Borel, was doing just fine back at his Barn 42 headquarters Sunday morning.
“Oh, he ate up; he ate everything,” assistant trainer Miguel Carranza said on a pleasant morning on the Churchill Downs backstretch. “You don’t worry about this horse. He does fine all the time.”
Trainer Jeff Bonde indicated that Twice the Appeal wasn’t a likely Preakness candidate prior to the Derby and one of his three owners – Victor Flores – confirmed that thought Sunday.
“He’s headed back to California, to Hollywood Park,” Flores said. “We might be able to get him on a flight today. If not, then tomorrow.
“We’ll give him a week or so to relax, then get back into it with an eye toward the Belmont (Stakes) in New York. This horse could be suited by the Belmont and we’ll see how he trains toward it.”
Like several others in their postrace comments, the owner lamented the lack of a quicker pace in the 10-furlong Derby.
“Those kinds of fractions (:23.24, :48.63, 1:13.40) weren’t what we needed for him,” Flores said. “He was just too far back on a slow pace and never really got to run his race. But that’s horse racing. Sometimes those things work out, sometimes not.”
While Twice the Appeal was headed west, Bonde’s other 3-year-old colt – Batman Stable, Olsen, Sharp, et al’s Sway Away – was scheduled to stay at Churchill for another 10 days before heading to Pimlico and a planned date in the Preakness Stakes (GI).
“I’m going to stay here with him,” Carranza said. “He’ll train here through next Tuesday, then we’ve got a flight up to Baltimore.”
Sway Away, who had finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby (GI) in his previous start, just missed getting into the Derby lineup when he wound up 21st on the graded-stakes money list that limited runners for the Run for the Roses to 20.
SOLDAT – Harvey Clarke, Craig Robertson III, Paul Braverman and Namcook Stables’ Soldat is scheduled to fly to New York on Monday to rejoin the bulk of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s stable following his 11th-place finish in Kentucky Derby 137.
“He had no excuses,” said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to and brother of Kiaran McLaughlin. “He had a perfect trip, but just wasn’t good enough yesterday. He came back fine and scoped clean last night.”
A return to the turf where Soldat broke his maiden in the With Anticipation (GIII) last summer and posted runner-up finishes in the Pilgrim (GIII) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) is possible according to Neal McLaughlin.
“We will go back to New York and regroup, but chances are he would go back to the turf,” McLaughlin said. “We will discuss it with the owners and come to a consensus and go from there.”
STAY THIRSTY – Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty pulled up none the worse for wear following his 12th-place finish in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 137. The son of Bernardini was “very good” Sunday morning at Barn 34 trainer Todd Pletcher reported and would be headed up to his headquarters at Belmont Park in New York on Monday.
“We won’t consider the Preakness for him,” Pletcher said. “But we’ll see how that race comes out, as well as the Peter Pan (Stakes) at Belmont and think about the Belmont Stakes for him.”
The trainer indicated that another of his charges – the Estate of Edward P. Evans’ Dance City, who had finished third in the Arkansas Derby (GI) in his most recent effort – was a likely candidate for the Preakness (GI) or the Peter Pan (GII).
He also said that his other Repole Stable colt, last year’s 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, whom he had been forced to scratch from a planned appearance in the Kentucky Derby because of a stomach ailment, would stay on in Kentucky and undergo more testing, including one that was to take place later Sunday.
Reflecting philosophically on his stable’s fortunes, the trainer offered:
“Overall, we’ve been blessed. We’ve had a lot of good weekends over the years, but this wasn’t one of our best. But that’s the game. You’ve got to accept it and go on. You’ve got to keep looking forward.”
DERBY KITTEN/TWINSPIRED – Trainer Mike Maker’s two Derby starters, Derby Kitten, who finished 13th and Twinspired, who finished 17th, left Churchill Downs shortly after 6 a.m. for the short ride back to the Trackside Training Center.
“They made it back over about 6:30,” Maker said. “They both came out of the race fine and at the moment there are no plans for what is next for them.”
DECISIVE MOMENT – Just For Fun Stable’s Decisive Moment exited a 14th-place finish in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby in fine order said trainer Juan Arias on Sunday morning.
The 3-year-old son of With Distinction chased the early pacesetters closely along the inside before weakening through the lane.
“He’s a free-running horse, he wants to be in the clear. He wasn’t comfortable,” Arias said. “We’ll sit down with the connections to see what we want to do next.”
Arias, who plans to ship Decisive Moment to the Calder Race Course base on Tuesday, was impressed with the atmosphere at Churchill Downs.
“It was awesome. That’s a unique experience, seeing the full grandstand and hearing the roar when they break from the gate. I watched the race from the sixteenth pole,” Arias said.
ARCHARCHARCH –Robert and Val Yagos’ Archarcharch was scheduled to leave Churchill Downs before noon to go to the Rood & Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington for surgery on a condylar fracture to the left front.
For trainer Jinks Fires and his son-in-law, jockey Jon Court, their first-time Kentucky Derby experience turned into a nightmare.
Archarcharch was bumped coming out of the gate, where Fires thought the injury may have occurred. Then, Court’s saddle slipped and then the colt got bumped again before the wire. Court got off Archarcharch on the far turn and the colt was vanned back to the barn.
“He got banged coming out of the gate and kind of knuckled over there at the crown of the track,” Fires said. “I told my wife that I didn’t like the way he was moving when he passed us the first time, and you hope you are wrong about that.”
Dr. Larry Bramlage will perform the surgery on the clean break and Fires said he could not speculate on whether Archarcharch could return to the races.
“He says you really don’t know (about a return to the races) until you go in there and see,” Fires said. “But he ran a mile and a quarter on it.”
Court was at the barn at 6:15 Sunday morning “to check on the big horse.”
“I’m just heart-broken,” Court said. “You are not supposed to get attached to the horses, but, c’mon, this horse, with the owners and everybody. It feels like a knife to the gut.
“My saddle slipped coming out of the gate and then maybe 30 yards from the wire I got bumped hard and I have no idea who it was.”
“You have the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows,” Fires said of the emotional roller coaster. “I was never more confident leading a horse over there. I thought I had the horse to beat them. He had trained well, was doing well and very comfortable in his surroundings.”
MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE – Word out of the Bob Baffert barn was that their Derby 137 runner had pulled up fine and spent a quite night following all the whooping and hollering around America’s most famous race.
Assistant trainer Jim Barnes said Midnight Interlude was well and that “we’re all good.” The War Chant colt, owned by Arnold Zetcher and ridden in the race by Victor Espinoza, pulled in 16th in the 19-horse field after an outing that failed to see him make a major impact.
“We’ll just have to wait until next weekend and see how he’s doing,” Baffert said Sunday morning. “We’ll see how he does when he goes back to the track. I’m going back to California, but when I come back on the weekend we’ll make a call about him. If he’s doing OK, training all right, we’ll definitely look at the Preakness (GI) for him. But we have to wait and see.
“Last year, if you’d have asked me about Lookin At Lucky the day after the Derby, I probably would have told you we weren’t going to the Preakness. But we waited and he told us he was OK and we went.”
In 2010, Lookin At Lucky, the eventual 3-year-old champion, was favored in the Kentucky Derby but suffered through a terrible trip in which he got slammed into the fence among other indignities to wind up sixth on a sloppy race track. When the colt bounced back the following week in his exercises at Churchill, Baffert made the decision to go forward and run him in the Preakness, which he won with an electrifying late finish by three-quarters of a length.
WATCH ME GO – Trainer Kathleen O’Connell reported Gil Campbell’s homebred was physically well following an 18th-place Kentucky Derby finish in which he raced wide throughout.
“He’s feeling very good, better than me,” O’Connell said. “You can’t go that wide in a race that long.”
Although disappointed with the fate of her Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner, O’Connell was able to put things into perspective Saturday night.
“My only consolation was: I felt so bad, so depressed leaving here, and then I drove by Mr. Jinks’ barn and thought ‘I should be ashamed the way I was feeling the way I did,’ ” said O’Connell, referring to Jinks Fires, whose Derby starter, Archarcharch, suffered a leg injury. “Here his horse was coming back in an ambulance, that’s about as devastating as you can get.”
O’Connell said Watch Me Go would likely be shipped to Ocala for a week to freshen up before resuming training.
“He’s got a lot of turf pedigree, and the Virginia Derby (Grade II on July 16) isn’t a bad race,” said O’Connell, who’ll have a large division stabled at Colonial Downs. “If we’re based in Virginia we’re closer to more things than if I took him back south to Florida.”
COMMA TO THE TOP -- Comma to the Top, who pressed the pace for the first mile of Derby 137 only to fall back to last at the finish after suffering a chip in his left front ankle during the running, was “doing OK” at Churchill’s Barn 42 Sunday morning, according to trainer Peter Miller.
“He ate up last night and he wasn’t tired after the race,” Miller said. “He didn’t drink any water or anything. But he’s just a tick off; you can see it. On a scale of 1 to 5, he’s about a 1. Not much, but he isn’t quite right.”
Miller said he’d schedule a surgery for his horse to remove the chip with Dr. Wayne McIlwrath of Colorado State University, one of the most respected veterinarians in the country.
“Something like this (the surgery) usually means they are out of action for eight to 12 weeks,” the trainer said. “But we’ll see how it goes and let Dr. McIlwrath tell us how to proceed. He’ll be the guy.
“If everything goes well, we’ll hope to have him back in training and back here in the fall for the Breeders’ Cup, either the Mile (GI) or the Dirt Mile (GI). He could go either way. He runs on both.”
Miller has a noon flight scheduled for Comma to the Top.
“He’ll be back in his stall at Hollywood Park at 7 tonight,” he said.