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)
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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)

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