The chase ends: Wildcard Animal Kingdom takes the roses, Preakness next

We shouldn’t have been surprised.  If you’ve been following the Derby Trail at all this year, the fact an overlooked long shot with a thin resume emphatically wins America’s greatest horse race was only fitting.  Animal Kingdom was a wildcard going in.  He had never raced on dirt, yet backside onlookers had sung praises of how he was training and coming into the race.  His dirt pedigree was questionable.  Sired by turf champion Leroidesanimaux, a majority of his offspring race and win on turf or synthetic surfaces.  Trainer Graham Motion insisted afterwards if horses are of a certain caliber, "they can handle the switchover”.  While that was true for the winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and somewhat supported further with Master of Hounds close fifth place finish, it is not the norm.  It happens in horse racing. It does not happen often, and that is why handicappers will continue to take pedigree into account.

The results of the Kentucky Derby seem to always provide multi-layered storylines of firsts, opportunity, redemption, and missed chances, and this year was no different.  It was the first Derby win for both jockey John Velazquez and trainer Graham Motion. It looked as though Velazquez would be watching the Derby on television from the Jock’s room when two-year-old champion Uncle Mo was scratched Friday.  Opportunity rang later when Animal Kingdom’s owner, Barry Irwin, decided to use his services instead of recently injured Robby Albarado.  Albarado insisted he was ready, but Irwin did not want to take the chance, and the decision ultimately took the jockey off the winner.  After 12 failed attempts and 3 late defections Velazquez finally got to smell the roses. Trainer Graham Motion also persevered through losing his leading challenger Toby’s Corner to an injury sustained last Sunday.

Second and third place finishers Nehro and Mucho Macho Man should be commended for running well, but aside from the winner, fourth place Shackleford ran most impressive.  Considering the track was not speed favoring and the fact frontrunners usually don’t fare well in the Derby, his effort was truly gutsy. Some will say the fractions were slow, which they were in comparison to recent Derbies, but the pace was still fair for a mile and a quarter race. Pants On Fire*, Soldat, Decisive Moment, and Comma To The Top* also gave close chase in the beginning but faded to 9th, 11th, 14th, and 19th respectively.

As for CTD’s picks, they were nowhere close.  Unfortunately top pick Archarcharch sustained a condylar fracture and was retired, but it appears he will recover.

What will the future bring? It looks as though Animal Kingdom is headed to Baltimore for the Preakness.  Who knows, we could have a superstar on our hands considering the way he took to dirt in his first try, his running style, and long distance pedigree. Here’s hoping for the first Triple Crown winner since 1978…

Stats from the Kentucky Derby:

·       Beyer Speed Figures: Animal Kingdom 103; Nehro 99; Mucho Macho Man 99; Shackleford 97; Master of Hounds 95; Santiva 95

·       Animal Kingdom (courtesy of Churchill Downs)
o   First horse since Needles in 1956 to win the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff
o   Fifth horse since 1900 to win Derby off 4 or fewer starts
o   First winner to break its maiden at Keeneland since Forward Pass in 1968.
o   Fifth consecutive winner with only two starts as a 3-year-old prior

·       Graham Motion: “Yesterday was surreal” (Bloodhorse)
·       Fate makes a comeback for Animal Kingdome trainer (Courier Journal)
·       Victory in Kentucky Derby meant to be for jockey (Courier Journal)
·       Albarado unhappy to be taken off winner (Courier Journal)
·       Kentucky bred winner has an international lineage (Courier Journal)
·       Kentucky Derby losing jockey and trainer quotes (Churchill Downs)
·       Rosie Napravnik yearns for a return trip (Courier Journal)
·       Arlington trainer comes close with Nehro (Star-Telegram)

*It was reported that Comma To The Top sustained an ankle injury and Pants On Fire bled following the race