Perhaps none of the past weekend’s workouts was more anticipated than the main track work by Animal Kingdom, who has never run on dirt or worked over it all year and who had his first scheduled dirt drill canceled last week due to bad track conditions at Churchill Downs.
The good news is that his work was exceptional. He was able to make a couple of moves to put himself where the rider wanted and leveled off beautifully after having a single cross thrown on him. And best of all was his strong gallop-out. He certainly seemed to move over the dirt well.
What we like about this horse is his ability to quicken, but unlike some horses who can give that big burst for an eighth of a mile, he quickens and then just keeps going. He showed in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) that he can put himself into contention quickly and then sustain his run, wearing down his opponents rather than blowing right by them.
He was always an awkward, immature colt, but has matured and improved, and according to his exercise rider at Keeneland, Heather Craig, has become more competitive and is developing into a real racehorse. He does have to overcome his lack of racing, with only four career starts, and a six-week layoff, but he still has the potential to surprise a lot of people.
Most will look at Animal Kingdom’s pedigree and see grass and more grass. Although that is understandable, there is a lot more to his pedigree than just the obvious names in his first four generations.
There is no doubt that Animal Kingdom’s pedigree is inundated with grass horses, mainly European, which is as grassy as it gets. But let’s look and see what’s beneath all that German, English, and French blood, and a touch of Irish.
We’ll start on the sire’s side. Leroidesanimaux, as we all know, was a top-class grass horse, who was actually bred in Brazil, despite his French and English heritage. His sire, Candy Stripes, sired on the of the great dirt horses of the past few decades, Invasor, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, and Whitney among others, as well as the Uruguayan Triple Crown. Candy Stripes also is the broodmare sire of Candy Ride, who was brilliant on both grass and dirt, winning the Pacific Classic in track-record time.
Leroidesanimaux’s dam, Disemble, is a half-sister to the great Juddmonte broodmare Hasili, who produced five grade I winners and two Breeders’ Cup winners – Banks Hill, Heat Haze, Intercontinental, Caciques, and Champs Elysses. The only one given an opportunity on dirt was Champs Elysses, who finished second and third in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Leroidesanimaux’s broodmare sire, Ahonoora, was a top-class European sprinter, but sired Dr. Devious, who captured the English Derby and Irish Champion Stakes, yet also closed from 17th to finish a respectable seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
On the female sire, Animal Kingdom’s broodmare sire, Acatenango, was strictly a grass horse who was the Horse of the Year in Germany three times and champion sire four times. He passes along tremendous toughness and stamina.
Animal Kingdom’s maternal great-grandsire, Dancing Brave, won the Arc de Triomphe, 2,000 Guineas, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, but it is important to note that he is a full-brother to the classy French filly Jolypha, who captured the French Oaks and Prix Vermeille before coming to America, where she finished a fast-closing third behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths and a half-length for second.
Dancing Brave’s and Jolypha’s dam, Navajo Princess, also excelled on dirt and grass, winning the Molly Pitcher and finishing third in the Apple Blossom, both on dirt. Navajo Princess’ sire, Drone, was undefeated in four starts for Claiborne Farm before an injury ended his career. He became a classic influence at stud as the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby winners Grindstone and Charismatic.
To add to this classy resume, Animal Kingdom’s fourth generation tail-female sire is Rheffic, another tough, hard-knocking horse who captured the French Derby and Grand Prix de Paris.
So, as you can see, there are a great number of top-class dirt influences hidden beneath all that classic European blood. And there is no question about him getting the mile and a quarter.
He should actually be even more formidable if the track comes up wet and packed down, which is a distinct possibility, judging from the long-range forecast. Because of its heavy clay content, the Churchill Downs surface is conducive to grass horses (just remember how Barbaro moved way up over it compared to Gulfstream). And if it is wet and packed down, there will be less kickback, which is always a concern when a horse is running on dirt for the first time. Another horse who looked impressive working Monday was Brilliant Speed, who also is a grass/synthetic horse that appeared to handle the Churchill surface beautifully.
It might be worth it to keep an eye on Animal Kingdom, a rapidly improving colt who is capable of making some noise on May 7.
Finally, if you have some concerns about Animal Kingdom having accomplished enough, but are as totally confused as most people because of a lack of a standout, you might want to remember these words: If the proven have proven little, go with the unproven, because you never know what they will prove.
A few observations
The most jaw-dropping horse in appearance has to be Shackleford, who looks like a Clydesdale compared to most of these, but moves like a show horse.
If there is a better looking horse than Dialed In, we haven’t seen him yet. As he walked the shed Sunday afternoon, you had to be impressed with way he was dappled out and his incredible muscle tone. He’s not a big horse by any means, but he has a powerful shoulder and his hind quarters are rippling. Watching his demeanor, he looks like he’s coiled and ready for action.
We haven’t seen many of the horses close up yet , but the other one we did see who stood out was Soldat. His coat looks great and has a nice shine to it and we loved the way he looked galloping this morning, with smooth strides and great purpose. And he did seem to get a bit competitive when an Oaks filly galloped up on his inside. He looks like he couldn’t be doing any better.