Animal Kingdom and John Velazquez worked over the Ascot turf in late May in preparation for the Queen Anne Stakes (Photo courtesy Steven Cargill/ Racingfotos.com).
After sweeping the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, Animal Kingdom looks to do something no Kentucky Derby winner has done since 1936 … run at Royal Ascot.
In March, Animal Kingdom became only the second Kentucky Derby winner to win the Dubai World Cup when he won the race by two lengths. Instead of returning to the United States or retiring to Australia, where he will stand his first year at stud this fall, Animal Kingdom shipped straight to England to prepare for Royal Ascot. Animal Kingdom is the first Kentucky Derby winner since Omaha in 1936 to run at the meet. In 1936, Omaha finished second to Quashed in the Ascot Gold Cup.
While adjusting to the different climate in England slowed down Animal Kingdom’s training after the Dubai World Cup, it fit right into the plan of his trainer Graham Motion.
“It probably took him a month to really adjust to the gallops and what have you but that played into his schedule because I wanted to go easy on him for about three or four weeks after Dubai,” Motion said. “But basically he’s handled it all very well. It’s very different; it’s a very different routine every day.”
Animal Kingdom was at first considered for two races, the Prince of Wales Stakes at 1 ¼ miles and the Queen Anne Stakes at a mile. After seeing the course Animal Kingdom would compete on for the Prince of Wales, Motion firmly decided on the Queen Anne due to the course differences.
Unlike racing in the United States - where both turf and dirt races are run over a flat, oval shaped surface - tracks in the United Kingdom have different configurations for different races. In the Queen Anne Stakes, Animal Kingdom will be running on a straight course with undulations, testing his fitness more than a mile would in the United States.
While Motion isn’t thinking about pulling off a Derby/Dubai/Royal Ascot triple just yet, if Animal Kingdom does win, he will join a list of greats that have taken the Queen Anne since it’s inaugural running in 1840. Most recently, the list of winners includes Goldikova, three-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, the second-highest rated miler of 2011 in Canford Cliffs, and the undefeated Frankel. The win would also be the first in England for Motion, who grew up in Cambridge, England.
Animal Kingdom will be running in the first race of the prestigious Royal Ascot meet but it will not be the first time he sees Ascot. Animal Kingdom breezed four furlongs under American jockey John Velazquez on May 29 at the track. Velazquez will have the mount on Animal Kingdom in the Queen Anne, his first time to ride Animal Kingdom since an allowance in February 2012. Motion returned to England to supervise the breeze and was happy with how the horse looked on the Ascot turf.
“I thought he handled it very well,” Motion said. “I was glad that Johnny was able to come and ride him because he was very pleased with how he went about it. The grass was pretty soft, which concerned me. I wasn’t sure that was throwing him another curveball, if you like. I thought really, he handled everything very well.”
ANIMAL KINGDOM WORKING AT ASCOT RACECOURSE
Photo courtesy Steven Cargill/Racingfotos.com
If Animal Kingdom wins the race, he will be the third Dubai World Cup winner to win at the Royal Ascot meet and will have earned Grade 1 wins on three different surfaces in three different countries. A Royal Ascot win would be a fitting end of the career of a horse that Motion believes will be a successful stallion.
“He’s an extraordinary horse, he’s certainly the best horse I’ve ever trained, probably the best horse I ever will train,” Motion said.
INSIDER VIDEO: ANIMAL KINGDOM
“From a stallion point of view, he’s got some incredible attributes. First of all, he’s an extremely impressive individual; it’s pretty hard to find any holes in him. He’s very well put together, he’s very well balanced and he can do anything. He’s proven he can go from a mile to a mile and a quarter on any surface, and I think that’s pretty unique in this day and age; and he also has a great disposition. He has this remarkable demeanor where he just kind of takes everything in stride, and I think that’s so important.”
Royal Ascot begins on June 18 and runs daily through June 22 with Animal Kingdom scheduled to run at 9:30 a.m. EDT on the first day of the meet. A group of American-based horses, including multiple graded stakes winner Havelock, are pointing to races throughout the week. Trainer Wesley Ward is sending three 2-year-olds to Royal Ascot in an attempt to repeat his "Royal Ascot double", where he won two juvenile stakes races at the 2009 meet.
Watch RacingUK's feature on Animal Kingdom here.
HAVELOCK WINNING ON THE TURF AT KEENELAND
Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire