Animal Kingdom’s ride heads to Dubai

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In another month, it will be about two years. . .Graham Motion stood at the rail of the dirt track at Fair Hill Training Center and waited for Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner.

As his horse walked down the horsepath toward his final workout for the Kentucky Derby, Motion talked about another potential Derby starter 650 miles away at Churchill Downs.

“That horse worked really well out there,” the trainer said. And, of course, everyone knows what happened next. Toby’s Corner bounced off the Derby trail with an injury and that horse out there – Animal Kingdom – won the 2011 Kentucky Derby for Motion and Team Valor International. It’s been some ride since, and the trip takes its latest turn with an attempt at the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Race Course in Dubai March 30.

Since winning the Derby, Animal Kingdom:

– missed winning the Preakness by a half-length;

– got roughed up and finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes;

– went to the sidelines and had hock surgery;

– targeted the 2012 World Cup and won his return after an eight-month layoff last February;

– got shelved again with a broken bone in his pelvis;

– returned off another eight-month layoff to finish second, after a tough trip, to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile;

– targeted the 2013 World Cup;

– sold to an Australian stud farm to stand the 2013 season this fall;

– returned with a second to Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last month;

Life with Animal Kingdom, a rare Kentucky Derby winner to race at 5, is still a whirlwind according to his trainer.

“It’s amazing. Just a year ago, he was sore after his work and we had to scrap plans to go to Dubai,” Motion said.

Team Valor’s Barry Irwin took that bit of news and went right on thinking big, telling Motion to plan for Dubai 2013.

“That’s a pretty optimistic way to look at things,” Motion said. “To hear that makes my job a lot easier. A little bit of that is lost. People want to cry about him not running in America, but we lose sight in our sport of what the challenges are. It’s ‘Who’s got the fastest horse?’ It’s not about ‘Let’s find the easiest race we can.’ It’s about taking on new challenges. Obviously, it’s a huge purse too, but it’s admirable that Barry and the partners have wanted to take on challenges with this horse.”

All being well, Animal Kingdom will leave Dubai for England and a chance to run at the Royal Ascot meeting in June. From there, it’s on to retirement, Australia and life as a stallion at Arrowfield Stud.

The end of the ride is not lost on Motion.

“A horse you’ve got an attachment with makes it different,” he said. “It’s not the horse’s personality, and he has a very-easy-to-get-attached-to personality. It’s just the fact of what he’s done for you. It would be like having a child that played professional sports or something. They take you to tremendous places and heights. For that reason you feel indebted to him.”

Motion carries that debt, thanks in part to four races. In the 2011 Preakness, Animal Kingdom broke a step slowly and dropped way off the pace before rallying to Shackleford’s flank at the wire. In the 2011 Belmont, Animal Kingdom got sideswiped exiting the gate and basically lost all chance. At the Breeders’ Cup last fall, Animal Kingdom was bumped on the backside and lacked room in the stretch. At Gulfstream in February, he accelerated leaving the backside and wound up in front, only to be run down late.  

The results may not have been any different given clean circumstances, Wise Dan and Point of Entry have beaten plenty of horses, but Motion sure would like to see everything go smoothly next weekend.

“Ultimately, I want to see him run the way he can and I hope he handles everything,” he said. “You try to do everything you can to make it the best scenario for him over there, but win, lose or draw you hope he gets the chance to run his best race and doesn’t get overcome by the hazards of shipping all the way around the world and running against the top horses in the world on a different racetrack. I can deal with him being beaten, but you could make a pretty good case for him being unlucky in his last two and you can put a question mark by four of his last five races.”

No matter, Animal Kingdom heads to the World Cup on an ideal timetable. Motion got the prep race he wanted, when he wanted it, and there have been no delays or alterations to the workout or training schedule. Animal Kingdom will be part of a standout field including dual Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta, Pacific Classic winner Dullahan, 2012 World Cup winner Monterosso, Hong Kong Vase winner Red Cadeaux and a host of standouts in a possible field of 13. The probables include 10 Group or Grade 1 winners.

Animal Kingdom arrived in Dubai this week and was expected to clear quarantine Saturday. He spent the first day getting to know the place – including some turnout time in a round pen – and went to the track for a jog Friday. Under the care of assistant Alice Clapham, the son of Leroidesanimaux will gallop Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Motion, who flies to Dubai Sunday, may dial up a short breeze Tuesday; otherwise, the serious work is done.

The World Cup, at 1 ¼ miles on the synthetic Tapeta surface, is the world’s richest race and part of a $27 million night of racing.