One Victory Away from Racing History ; Ascot Triumph Would Put Animal Kingdom in a Grand Class All His Own

By Goldberg, Ryan | International Herald Tribune, June 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

One Victory Away from Racing History ; Ascot Triumph Would Put Animal Kingdom in a Grand Class All His Own


Goldberg, Ryan, International Herald Tribune


Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, could make history in the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot, where no American- trained horse has ever won.

Well before the Breeders' Cup last autumn, Barry Irwin, the president of Team Valor International, wrote to the investors in his horse Animal Kingdom with a plan for the rest of the horse's career. They would sell a majority of the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner to a first-class farm -- Arrowfield Stud of Australia, as it turned out - - and then go for the Dubai World Cup and Royal Ascot, before retiring him. It was a plan for an international talent.

In his mind, Irwin imagined that this mile race at Ascot, around a turn and tracing an incline up to the finish, was ideal for Animal Kingdom, resembling his environs at the base of his trainer, Graham Motion, in Maryland. It seemed perfect. So after Animal Kingdom ransacked the Dubai World Cup in March in an electrifying performance, Irwin could actually glimpse this swan song at Ascot. Motion and Irwin talked it over with Arrowfield's owner, John Messara.

"They started to talk about how Animal Kingdom would handle the straightaway," Irwin recalled. "I shouted, 'What straightaway?!' Then a light bulb went on," followed by an expletive.

It turns out that Irwin had the wrong race in mind, the St. James Palace, which is restricted to 3-year-olds; older horses run the Queen Anne Stakes, held at a straight mile.

"I don't want to run this horse on a straightaway," Irwin told Messara and Motion. He suggested other options, like the Breeders' Cup Classic in the autumn. "But everybody still wanted to go to Ascot. And until I watched him work at Ascot, I was apprehensive. Now I'm confident."

That workout came three weeks ago at an empty Ascot, and the reports then and now are glowing. Animal Kingdom is "dead fit and looks incredible," Irwin said. The brilliant 5-year-old chestnut is still coming into his own, which doesn't bode well for his competitors in the Queen Anne on Tuesday. After the defection of his main rival, Farrh, British bookmakers began offering odds of 4 to 5 or even-money on Animal Kingdom as the ante-post wagering favorite.

Animal Kingdom could make history in the Queen Anne. The last Kentucky Derby winner to race at Royal Ascot was the Triple Crown winner Omaha, who raced in the two-and-a-half mile Ascot Gold Cup in 1936. Omaha lost to a filly named Quashed. No American-trained horse has ever won the prestigious Queen Anne, which dates from the mid- 19th century. This will be the third continent on which Animal Kingdom has raced, and he has won on three surfaces -- dirt, turf and synthetic -- on the grandest stages. Winning at Ascot would put him in a class all his own.

But this will be his stiffest challenge. The straight course is different from any he has run; only his jockey, the American John Velazquez, has tried it. His training in England has also been unorthodox.

Upon leaving Dubai, Motion decided to send Animal Kingdom to Lambourn and the yard of the English trainer David Lanigan. Both men train for the Niarchos family. Choosing from the many gallops for Animal Kingdom's daily routine was complicated. …

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