Animal Kingdom: Hock injury sidelines Derby winner

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Vets prescribe two weeks of rest, re-evaluation

Graham Motion goes to Churchill Downs Friday to officially accept the Kentucky Derby trophies and see Animal Kingdom’s display at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

The trainer will go with other thoughts on his mind as Thursday brought the news that Team Valor International’s star 3-year-old was shelved with an injury to his left hock. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner spent Wednesday and Thursday at New Bolton Center equine hospital getting examined because of lingering stiffness and soreness from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. The tests and examinations – first by Dr. Dean Richardson at New Bolton in Pennsylvania and then Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood and Riddle in Kentucky confirmed what Motion and his staff suspected.

The horse will miss some time and the remainder of his 2011 campaign is in question until he gets the OK to resume training. Plans call for two weeks of rest at Fair Hill Training Center, another set of X-rays and tests and more veterinary opinions. A press release from Team Valor International called the injury “a small fissure on the tip of the cannon bone where it joins the lower part of the hock.”

Potentially, it’s minor. Surely, it needs rest. Ultimately, time will tell. And, regardless, the people have to cope.

“The emotions have gone through so many different ranges at this point that it’s difficult to say,” said Motion Thursday evening. “I can’t describe how disappointing it is. Some amount of it is guilt. I feel a certain amount of responsibility. You put a horse through this grueling series of three races and when they come out of it with an issue, you think about the decision. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t have run, but you think about it. He’s an extremely generous horse in as much as how hard he tries. He’s going to try, every time. It’s very upsetting that he’s come out of it with an issue.”

The trainer’s emotions have been stretched since April. He won the Wood Memorial with Toby’s Corner and the Spiral with Animal Kingdom. Both aimed for the Derby. Toby’s Corner went to the sidelines with an injury the week of the race. Animal Kingdom won. Two weeks of attention followed – including an interview on NPR and a ceremonial first pitch at an Orioles game – and Animal Kingdom missed winning the Preakness by a half-length after dropping nearly 20 lengths off the pace. After three weeks of training, Animal Kingdom entered the Belmont Stakes starting gate as the favorite. Shortly after leaving that gate, he got bumped by Mucho Macho Man – who was hampered first by Isn’t He Perfect – and clipped heels. Animal Kingdom nearly lost jockey John Velazquez, took several awkward strides and labored home sixth after making a late charge around the final turn.

The injury likely occurred in those first few moments. Motion said the veterinarians feel the injury happened as the result of a hyperextension, which points to the incident just after the start – though no one knows for sure.

Animal Kingdom is resting comfortably at Fair Hill and will simply graze (and walk to the next grazing spot) for two weeks. Then Richardson and Bramlage will have their second looks.

Motion and his team have lost their second top 3-year-old of the year – at least for a while. In the good news category Toby’s Corner galloped Thursday, but that does little to soften the blow.

“It could be a lot worse, we know that,” Motion said. “Hopefully, in two weeks it will have healed and he’ll be able to train again. I think for (assistant) Dave Rock, it’s the hardest. He’s been the most involved with the horse. The horse has gone through two races (the Preakness and the Belmont) and had two legitimate excuses. He didn’t get to run the way we all believe he can, didn’t get to run his best race. The frustration is there for all of us, but Dave especially.”