Pure Animal: Derby Winner on the Comeback Trail

Animal Kingdom at Keeneland Oct. 26 (C. Novak)

ARCADIA, CA -- If his trainer were another—less conservative, less reserved—you’d be inclined to doubt the legitimacy of Animal Kingdom’s upcoming bid at the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park.

You might wonder how the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner could possibly return to the World Championships, the Super Bowl of racing, in his first start since being sidelined with a bone fracture back in February.

You could even say the challenge—facing the likes of the freakishly versatile Wise Dan and top European miler Excelbration—is simply too much to ask an athlete coming off the bench.      

If this were a different situation...

But when Graham Motion sends his horses into tough spots, you know each decision has been made with painstaking deliberation, the ultimate good of the runner in mind. He is not a man who takes wild risks, is not inclined to “throw ‘em in and see how they do.” With Animal Kingdom especially, every step of the comeback trail has been carefully monitored, thoughtfully chosen, so when the big chestnut colt with the bright white star walks a Santa Anita shedrow with the smooth, swinging steps of a champion, you know the horse is good and you know he’s ready. You know he deserves to be here.

Animal Kingdom at Santa Anita Oct. 28 (C. Novak)

Animal Kingdom arrived at the Great Race Place on Saturday, Oct. 27, and went swinging along to the track the next day around 8:45 a.m. local time. Through rehab from a fractured ilium incurred after an easy Feb. 18 turf victory at Gulfstream Park, and thanks to strong gallops and breezes on the uphill course at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., the Team Valor runner is sharp and heavily-muscled. He took in his new surroundings alertly and was on the muscle in his gallop under exercise rider David Neva.

Animal Kingdom looks good at Santa Anita Oct. 28 (A. Eberhardt)
Order This Photo.

Two days ago, Animal Kingdom bulled his way through a workmanlike breeze at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, where he spent a short time before continuing on to the West Coast. The move, five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 in company with stablemate Badleroibrown, was covered in-depth (and with video) here by yours truly. As Motion remarked then, the task ahead is a challenge, but not one this horse is unqualified to face.

Animal Kingdom before breezing at Keeneland Oct. 26 (C. Novak)

Last season's 3-year-old champion will not rest on his laurels. His presence adds excitement to what is sure to be one of the stiffest races on the Breeders' Cup Saturday card, and watching his final preparations for this unusual start, it's plain to see—he's one talented Animal.

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom (Reed Palmer Photography)


Leave a Comment:


They are in here for a comeback race hoping to pick up some cash for the experience if they're lucky,he's a beaten horse.

28 Oct 2012 8:45 PM
quiet american

a beautiful horse..glad to see him racing as a 4 yr old. Would absolutely be great to see him have a winning comeback. He sure looks fit and ready to rumble.

29 Oct 2012 12:31 AM

A lot of the bloggers will remember Da Hoss who had one race in two years before winning the 1998 mile.The difference is that Da Hoss had already won a Breeders Cup Mile.Announcer Tom Durkin yelled, "Oh, my, this is the greatest comeback since Lazarus. He's had one race in two years."Looking at this from a historical context and how Da Hoss came back I wont be betting on AK  to win the Mile but its a story that some of the newer racefans will appreciate.

29 Oct 2012 9:32 AM
from the gut

Animal Kingdom is anything but a beaten horse. With a clear lane he could run this field down and to suggest the connections flew out here for gloy and a small check is just not so.FYI comebacks do not start in the first week in november Good Luck AK RUN THEM DOWN

29 Oct 2012 10:23 AM

What a jaded comment.Think about it if it was just money there's  much easier spots to try.It's pretty sad when so called racing fans take cheap shot's at connections who have proven themselves time again to only look out for there horses welfare. I don't think there's a trainer working today who I'd trust more then Graham Motion and if I ever had the chance to own a Thoroughbred  I'd want Barry Irwin to represent me. I take it back it was a stupid comment to make

29 Oct 2012 12:51 PM

It would be interesting to know on what facts you based your remarks, rabbit. This is a horse with a classic pedigree and running style, as well as the drive to win. If he wins, it won't be so much a comeback but rather a return to where he belongs. I would enjoy seeing AK resume a successful career.

29 Oct 2012 1:02 PM

Motion along with Team Valor manage a large stable so eventhough I wouldnt bet on him to win, its worth a shot for the human connections who by the way will probably be shipping more horses than AK west for the weekend.

29 Oct 2012 3:41 PM

To count Animal Kingdom out is shortsighted folly. His connections have shown due diligence in plotting a course of action for their horses. They do not take their responsibility lightly and they are highly successful.  It's a gutsy move but well thought out.

29 Oct 2012 4:31 PM

Could somebody refresh my memory, please?  What injury did Animal Kingdom suffer in his Belmont in that horrible stumble early in the race?

Was it a hock?


29 Oct 2012 4:45 PM
an ole railbird

on a given day, this horse (AK) has shown the talent to blow this field of horses ,away.

 but, coming into this field of horses, off a layoff of this magnitude, it seems rather far fecthed.

 having said that. it is very uncharateristic, of mr.  motions to run him in this race.

 i really expect a wild & crazy excata in this one.

dont be afraid to expermint in this one. a few "could happen", $2 dollar exata tickets, might pay a return, that will carry you through the winter.

stranger things have happened.

   i remain "an ole railbird"

29 Oct 2012 5:10 PM

Good article and excellent points. Animal Kingdom is a top class horse, and he has every right to run in, and win, the BC Mile. His workout was terrific, and I loved how his ears were pricked down the lane. He'll be facing some tough horses, but I won't be surprised to see him in the winner's circle.

29 Oct 2012 6:06 PM
Pedigree Ann

It is not unheard of for horses with majors wins over a distance of ground to cut back to a shorter race when they don't have time to prepare for their usual length of race. Precisionist winning the BC Sprint is one example. Animal Kingdom hasn't had time to get fit for a 10f race, so a mile race (especially if it is run at a quick pace early) is where he should be. Good luck to him.

29 Oct 2012 6:18 PM
Greg R

I feel much better about Animal Kingdom after seeing his last work at Keeneland.  Oddly, the graphic/chart reported it as being on "firm" ground, but it was obviously soft.  You could see the clods/divots being thrown up all over the place.

Going a mile on the sharp-turned turf course at Santa Anita, so much depends on racing luck.  It's a risky race to bet.  I rarely like a horse, no matter how good, off a long layoff.  On the other hand, Wise Dan and Excelebration may be at the point of one race too many in the last few months, so pick your poison.    

30 Oct 2012 12:15 AM
Karen in Texas

slee---The original injury was to the hock/cannon bone at their juncture. See the BH article.


30 Oct 2012 1:23 PM

big fan of trainer & horse, owner sometimes gets wound up and needs a bigger lid, but AK does nothing but add to what appears on paper a showdown between 'Dan the Man, and Excelleration[sp?]...I hope he runs well, those tight tirns may prove his undoing to be in the picture for the top slot

30 Oct 2012 1:46 PM

The connections have chosen to run stone cold closer AK in the mile.If he wins his resume will improve drastically as a bloodhorse prospect.Won the Derby at three,won the Breeders Cup Mile without a prep at 4.Why not take a shot makes sense as an owner,as a Bettor he wont be getting my win money.Lets get closer to race time and see where he starts how the race shapes up on PAPER etc.I dont know if I would include him in exotic wagers yet.

30 Oct 2012 5:29 PM

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