Animal Kingdom: Step 1 of many

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Derby Winner gets first look at Fair Hill track

After three weeks with Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner, Fair Hill’s resident Kentucky Derby hopeful, ST is back on the daily update scene with Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The Team Valor horse arrived at Fair Hill, our home base, Tuesday and we’ll keep up with him as he gets ready for the Preakness.


Wednesday, May 11
Animal Kingdom went for a jog (trot) around the 1-mile main track at Fair Hill Training Center this morning – getting a good look at the place and some spectators (many with microphones and/or cameras).

The Kentucky Derby winner and exercise rider David Nava left the barn at about 8:30 a.m. – along with lead pony George and assistant trainer Dave Rock – just before the harrowing break. By design, the track was basically empty and they jogged a mile the wrong way on the outer rail – nice and slow, steady, calm, easy. Animal Kingdom pricked his ears and seemed to enjoy the leg-stretcher – as did his trainer.

“Whew, I’m glad that’s over,” Graham Motion said. “The first time on the track, after the week we’ve had, you kind of wonder if everything is OK. He looks pretty amazing. You wouldn’t know he had a race.”

Motion and his staff are aiming Animal Kingdom for the Preakness May 21 at Pimlico in Baltimore. The second leg of the Triple Crown is nearly always the Derby winner’s goal and Animal Kingdom has taken only small steps, but looks and acts fine. Motion said the chestnut son of Leroidesanimaux shipped well, ate well and seems to have adapted to his new home – in a barn recently purchased by owner/breeder Team Valor – at Fair Hill. Animal Kingdom walked the shedrow, took an easy stroll across the barn parking lot, through the trees and up the horsepath to the tracks. Fair Hill’s dirt track sits outside the 7-furlong Tapeta (synthetic track) and is where Motion’s horses do early work after a race.

The trainer studied Wednesday’s session as best he could, moving away from the small crowd for a spot on the rail. At the conclusion, he spoke with Nava and Rock about the horse’s next real step being “a long way” off and for Nava to stay on for a bit in the barn. Animal Kingdom wore a cooler over his hindquarters and walked a few extra turns of the shed after getting back to the barn. Eventful? No, not really. Just another day with a horse.

Sort of.

“He’s kind of laid back about anything so it’s not like the track thing really bothers him,” Motion said. “There’s going to be a lot of build-up around here, but the Preakness thing is so hard to deal with for me, we’re talking about it already and I know we have to. But I want to savor the Derby. We won the Derby.”

Savoring has been difficult, given the schedule.

Derby winners are always swept here and there afterward – presentations, press conferences, receptions, ceremonies, introductions – and this one was no different. By 9 Saturday night, Motion wasn’t sure where his day had gone and was headed to a winner’s reception at the Derby Museum. Staffers led him to a room in the museum where the race played for a small group of people. Motion sat down, took a deep breath and looked for his horse on the screen.

“Finally, I can actually watch the race,” he said to himself. “I just felt this relief and I remember someone coming up and talking to me, but I just wanted to watch the race. The horses were almost to the wire and someone else came in and said ‘So they’re all waiting for you now if you’re ready, we’re going to go into the reception.’ “

Motion thought he was already in the reception.

“We walked into the museum, it’s all dark with the stage and the trophies lit up and it was just so cool,” he said. “It was amazing. I felt like a governor or something who had been running for office and we’d won the election and I was coming out to make the announcement. People shaking your hand when you’re walking down the line, the whole thing. The lights came on, it was amazing.”

Motion and his family (wife Anita and children Jane and Chappy) stayed an extra day in Kentucky – earning a “that’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard for missing a day of school” from an administrator at Sanford School – and returned to the Derby Museum for a look at where Animal Kingdom’s win will be featured and at least a little savoring.

There’s work to be done now that Motion and his stable are largely in one place. The horses always return to Fair Hill this time of year, consolidating in Maryland after months of the Florida/Kentucky/Maryland shuffle. A flock of new horses also arrived Tuesday, adhering to Motion’s “after the Derby” schedule.

“I told everybody to put off sending their horses in until after the Derby; I don’t think I really thought about winning it,” he said. “The thought process was after the Derby things are going to settle down. Now we’ve got 16 horses coming in today.”

And it hasn’t settled down.

NOTES: Motion’s assistant Adrian Rolls passed along some good news about Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner, who was pulled off the Derby trail with a sore hind leg last week. “He’s 50 percent better,” Rolls said. “That was nice to see.” The son of Bellamy Road has not trained since the problem flared, but walks regularly in the shedrow and was happily munching mints and watching the action in the main barn Tuesday . . . This is late, but happy fourth birthday to Eoin Mitchell, son of exercise rider Johnny Mitchell and a regular on these pages.


*PHOTO: Trainer Graham Motion (right) keeps an eye on Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom (left), who went for a jog with lead pony George Wednesday (Eclipse Sportswire).


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