Animal Kingdom: Looking Good

- -


Favorite makes trainer smile as Preakness nears

ST is chronicling the life of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who is training for the May 21 Preakness at Fair Hill Training Center. The Team Valor horse arrived at Fair Hill, our home base, Tuesday after the Derby and we’ll keep up with him as he gets ready for the next step and continues on the trail.

Friday, May 20
“How good does that horse look?”

Graham Motion hopped into his silver Acura MDX Friday morning, collected two passengers and on the short ride from the barn to the track assessed Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

“I don’t know how he’s going to run, but I think he looks great.”

Half an hour earlier, Animal Kingdom went through his final pre-Preakness exercise. He walked to the track, stood in at the gap, jogged off 10th in line and went through a steady gallop. Motion has a word with his exercise riders as they leave the barn for galloping sessions and as Animal Kingdom headed to the horsepath, the trainer told David Nava, “A mile-and-a-half OK? Stay a bit out from the rail.” Animal Kingdom powered through those 12 furlongs on the Tapeta surface at Fair Hill, still last in the line and walked home first with lead pony George and assistant trainer Dave Rock. Coming home, Nava nodded and smiled when Motion said “He looks super, right?”

Looks, Motion knows, count for little in a major horse race but the trainer’s job is essentially done.

Animal Kingdom made it through the two weeks. No missed training days, no fevers, no sore shins, no allergic reactions, no coughs. His coat still shines, his ears still prick at the slightest movement, his legs still churn in rhythm, his head still cocks to one side early in his gallops, then straightens up for the final lap. He still thinks (a little) about misbehaving when he turns the corner to go past the humans lined up along the outside rail.

Friday seemed routine, easy, but easy has been two weeks in the making. Animal Kingdom trained with a single stablemate early, then moved to a bigger groups – aiming for single file relaxation. The son of Leroidesanimaux powered past much of his company in the early days and ended another gallop with several bucks and kick-outs. Nothing major, just more details to give a trainer fits.

“I was getting a little caught up in what I wanted him to do and I kind of backed off this week and felt like I should just let him train like he normally does,” Motion said Friday. “I think that’s important. I want to keep a routine, keep a sense of normalcy about the situation and not get too caught up in the fact that you’re going to the Preakness with a Derby winner. That shouldn’t make any difference, you shouldn’t change your routine just because of that.”

As part of that routine,  the Preakness favorite will ship to Pimlico early Saturday morning. He’ll have company as Motion runs seven, including Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account, on the day. Three vans will leave Fair Hill at about 5 – the Herringswell truck and gooseneck trailer (Gregory Stelmach in the driver’s seat) with early starters, a Cooper Horse Transport tractor trailer (Keith Cooper at the wheel) with stakes horses and a Cooper nine-horse van (Joy Cooper, driver) with one special horse aboard. Keith has a telephone number for the Maryland State Police should any traffic slow the precious cargo, and the word Friday was that the JFK Toll Plaza weigh station will be closed (not just for the horses).

Next stop Pimlico.

Animal Kingdom’s bid for the second leg of the Triple Crown comes with the 6:15 post time. He faces 13 rivals including fellow Derby starters Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Dialed In and Midnight Interlude. Motion talked a little pre-race handicapping with staffer John Panagot Friday morning and entertained questions about pace and strategy and new shooters, but will concentrate on Animal Kingdom.

“He’s a very good horse, extremely talented whatever happens tomorrow,” Motion said. “He seems to be doing very good and because of that I feel pretty relaxed about it. If I was worried about how he was doing I think I’d be pretty stressed. If he wasn’t doing well it would be a very different feeling than I’m having now and I feel very comfortable with what I’m doing. I can’t predict the result, but I feel very comfortable with what I’m doing.”

NOTES: Motion briefly toured Fair Hill with Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials Friday – checking in on Animal Kingdom along the way. O’Malley even went for a short ride aboard trainer Bruce Jackson’s lead pony Emory and gave a short speech encouraging support of the state’s horse industry . . . The trainer threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Orioles game at Camden Yards. He was not brought in as a reliever – despite the 13-2 final score in favor of the Yankees.


*PHOTO: Animal Kingdom checks out the photographers after a bath Thursday (Kathee Rengert).


Click here for previous Journal Entries.

Follow ST Publishing on Twitter.


A few places to look for Animal Kingdom photos from Fair Hill this week

Eclipse Sportswire

Ryan Lasek Photography