It has been a long and taxing road to get to this point. But on a perfect fall morning Friday, that last serious piece of work toward champion Animal Kingdom’s return to the races took place over the Keeneland turf.
Team Valor’s 2011 winner of the Kentucky Derby put in his last major move in advance of his expected start in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, covering five furlongs in 1:02.60 on the turf, working in company with Badleroibrown.
With trainer Graham Motion watching from the grandstand, Animal Kingdom broke off a few lengths behind his stablemate but had picked up enough to draw even around the turn. The two continued through the lane about on even terms before Animal Kingdom edged away, finishing about a half length in front.
“I just wanted him to do a nice work kind of within himself, and I think that’s what he did,” Motion said afterwards. “I was a little surprised how soft the (turf) was. I think it worked out very well. He’s had some hard works at Fair Hill (in Maryland), so it wasn’t about him having a real hard work today. I wanted him to do something within himself before he leaves tomorrow.”
Animal Kingdom has not raced since winning a 1 1/16-miles allowance race on the Gulfstream Park turf in February. The well-muscled son of Leroidesanimaux was then sidelined with a stress fracture of the ilium that knocked him out of the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
In coming back in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park, Animal Kingdom is definitely being thrown into the deep end. Among the challengers he isto face are multiple Grade I winner Wise Dan and Group I winners Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud.
“I’d be afraid to do it with some horses, but he’s just got such a remarkable attitude,” Motion said of Animal Kingdom. “It’s a big challenge. Just really everything has gone without a hiccup. For fear of jinxing myself, he hasn’t missed a work, he hasn’t missed a week. If anything had gotten in the way, I wouldn’t have done this, but he’s gotten us here. It’s kind of hard to come back and find a race for a Derby winner.”