Monday, February 11, 2013
The ‘King’ Kompromised
Animal Kingdom must love to train.
Saturday’s Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap race was his third race in a year’s time and, sadly, we won’t get to see him on American soil again. For, you see, this unconventional horse has an unconventional farewell campaign, a truly global one. (Well, he ain’t goin’ to France. C’mon, Graham’s a Brit. That stuff goes deep, man, deep. Just try and say Horatio Nelson in a Parisian Café and see how many croissants get thrown at you.)
Animal Kingdom is going to rack up as many frequent flier miles as Hilary Clinton. Animal Kingdom will bid farewell to the United States and head to Dubai, a flight that will take upwards of 7,000 miles. From there he’ll go to Royal Ascot, another 4,000 miles or so, and retire with possibly the most eclectic racing resume since Curlin.
Frankly, after what Graham Motion did with Animal Kingdom in 2012 was worth all the Eclipse votes Steve Asmussen got (2). AK was on the shelf for 259 days with a gut-wincing pelvic fracture. He came back and was arguably the best horse in a Mile-field and lost just a 1 ½ lengths to Wise Dan, the eventual Horse of the Year.
And on Saturday, his chance at victory wasn’t so much compromised by trip, but by tactics. Jockey Joel Rosario made Shaquille O’Neal look more capable. Too bad that’s Animal Kingom’s North American-send off, but what are you going to do?
The horse is five years old and a Kentucky Derby winner, which begs the question: why the hell are you still around? Don’t you have something better to do? Like, I don’t know, eat, drink, and “be merry”?
The last Kentucky Derby winner to be this old and to still be running was Funny Cide, and he only did because he was gelded and about—if not more—curmudgeonly than his trainer Barclay Tagg.
Animal Kingdom is an outlier. He won the Derby, then he got hurt. He came back. Then he got hurt. He came back again to finish to second. He’s got 20 owners. He prefers grass. He’s actually … The Most Interesting Horse in the World.
“He speaks English, in horse.”
“He’s a hunter and a jumper, but mainly a hunter.”
“He was unimpressed by War Horse … He is … the Most Interesting Horse in the World.”
“I don’t always run on dirt, but when I do, I prefer Kentucky.”
Facebook lit up after his loss to Point of Entry, mainly ripping Joel Rosario, namely on Alex Brown’s thread (go buy his book). He gallops horses at Fair Hill in Maryland and is practically roommates with Animal Kingdom, playing darts, drinking room temperature beer, dreaming of Pipa.
What I can’t stand is how people on this thread (not Brown)—one in particular—defended Rosario. And this goes for people who defend jockeys who make bad moves. They always say, “He’s the only who could know since he’s on the horse!” “The pace was slow!” “He has to make split-second decisions!”
So what? You know who else has to make split-second decisions? Quarterbacks, and we rip on them for bad throws. Batters, and we rip on them for grounding into a double play to end the game with the bases juiced. LeBron James, for missing a game-winning shot. Tiger Woods, for infidelity and missing putts.
So the people who defend jockeys need to stop being so insular. They are athletes, great athletes, but when they make mistakes, they need to get raked over the coals just like any other athlete in any other sport.
The beauty of this game—for jockeys—is they always get another chance (health permitting). Rosario is a quality talent, but don’t condescend and say things like, “Did anyone not notice that there was NO pace in this race ….They went the first quarter in 25 and the next in 25 2/5 .. He’s[Animal Kingdom] an off the pace horse in a ZERO paced race! If Rosario didn’t press, then they would have gone the ¾ in almost 1:16, and tried to close into a hors that had just been galloping.”
The pace was slow and Animal Kingdom wasn’t trailing by 15 lengths, but four. He didn’t move up to press the pace, he flat-out stole it. He used his turn of foot four furlongs too soon.
No matter. These things happen. One down, two to go.
Maybe in a few weeks he’ll break his Meydan, no?
If you or a loved one—or an enemy you’re looking to lure into your confidence—would like a hardcover, first edition book, I’m giving away (while supplies last, limit one per person) copies of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. If interested, email me at and let me know how you would like it inscribed. The only catch is I ask you to review it on Amazon. That’s it! What a world!