Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, will make his first start since February when he returns in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 3, owner Team Valor announced Tuesday.
The reigning champion 3-year-old male of 2011 scored an easy turf win on Feb. 18 at Gulfstream Park in his only start this year. He developed a stress fracture of the ilium three weeks later that knocked him out of the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
The injury did not require surgery and healed with 30 days of stall rest. Animal Kingdom resumed training in June and began breezing on Aug. 21. Over the summer, trainer Graham Motion suggested the Mile as a viable option if the 4-year-old colt encountered no setbacks. Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin agreed, but he and Motion decided to not reveal the plan until Animal Kingdom showed in his training that the race was a reasonable goal.
“I’ve had it on my mind for a while,” Motion, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2004 with Better Talk Now and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Shared Account in 2010, said via phone Tuesday afternoon. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever trained. He won the Kentucky Derby, you know, so I’m not going to go looking to run him in an overnight handicap anywhere. I think there is a chance (he is better on turf). I think he won on the dirt because he’s a very good horse, but certainly his pedigree and the way he trains would indicate the turf would be his preferred surface. And for a horse who has had soundness issues, to run on the turf course is probably a little kinder than running on a dirt track we’ve never run on before.”
Animal Kingdom officially breezed four furlongs Tuesday morning in company with Badleroibrown in :50.20 over the turf course at Fair Hill Training Center.
“He’s done everything as well as I could have asked him to,” Motion said. “Every week when I breeze him, obviously I hold my breath, which I would with any horse coming back off an injury. But he’s done everything very easily like he always has done. He certainly doesn’t appear to have lost anything, or else we wouldn’t be doing this.”
One potential issue that could arise for Animal Kingdom in his Breeders’ Cup return is who would ride the chestnut son of Leroidesanimaux. Animal Kingdom’s regular jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, is the regular pilot for multiple Grade I winner and Mile candidate Wise Dan.
Wise Dan’s connections have been leaning toward a start in the Mile, but trainer Charlie Lopresti said Tuesday morning that a start in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on the dirt remains under consideration.
“I realize Johnny’s situation and obviously that’s going to be a little bit up in the air depending on what they do with Wise Dan,” Motion said. “I imagine he would probably stay on Wise Dan, but I haven’t discussed it. This is kind of the first stage of this and we haven’t really gotten to the nitty gritty.”
Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby and finished second in the Preakness Stakes before finishing sixth in the 2011 Belmont Stakes. The chestnut colt emerged from that race with a stress fracture to his left hind leg that sidelined him for the rest of the year.