Animal Kingdom: Striding into uncharted waters

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Derby winner steps into Preakness Week

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.

Monday, May 16

Graham Motion leaned against the wall behind the Team Valor barn at Fair Hill Training Center and watched Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom get a bath. The soapy water flowed over the chestnut’s muscles in about as normal a moment you can get with a horse.

Around the corner, photographers snapped buzzed and cameras whirred from a spot Motion had led them. The Canons and Nikons couldn’t see the trainer, who took a deep breath, crossed his legs and simply watched.

Fate lies five days in the future. Can Animal Kingdom repeat his Derby effort in the Preakness. Is he ready? Is he too ready? Is he not ready enough?

“I don’t know what you learn about this situation anywhere,” Motion said while walking to the track a few minutes later. “Basically all that I’ve ever done was learned (with former employers Jonathan Sheppard and Bernie Bond) and all I’m doing now is trying not to do anything different than what I’ve ever done. I don’t think anyone teaches you how to deal with this situation. It’s such a unique situation. What’s best for the horse is to try not to change anything, to do the same thing. That’s my impression anyway.”

The Preakness comes two weeks after the Derby, a short turnaround for any horse and not necessarily on the agenda of any trainer. Nowhere else would Thoroughbred trainers draw up a racing schedule that included a race as arduous as the Derby (19 horses, 1 1/4 miles, massive crowd, immense buzz) followed by another one nearly as difficult two weeks later.

“I probably wouldn’t be doing this much with a horse a week after a race,” Motion said of Animal Kingdom’s training schedule. “But the horse is great, he’s absolutely fine. As a trainer you always wonder what you would do in this situation, and then you all of the sudden are thrown into it. You’ve kind of had all your life to think about it. I’m sure everybody thinks about it.”

Now, go out and do it.

Animal Kingdom galloped on the dirt at about 9 a.m. in part due to the room afforded horses on the expansive oval. The 1-mile track has more area than the 7-furlong Tapeta circuit inside and allowed Motion to set up a gallop Monday that included several setmates. Animal Kingdom, sporting a yellow Preakness saddle towel, started near the back and ended near the front. He finished full of energy, no bucks or antics afterward and looked great. He levels off when he runs farther and faster and seems to always lock on to horses ahead of him on the track.

Motion rolls with the horse’s natural aggressiveness. Alone, Animal Kingdom would gallop more relaxed, but he also might goof off too much. In company, he might do too much. It’s a fine line and one every trainer walks. Mix in the two-week turnaround, the enormity of it all and the line gets even Sharpier.

“The horse and his well-being, that’s the most important thing,” Motion said. “You just hope the last one didn’t take too much out of him. That’s the bottom line. Hopefully he’s not too geed-up about it. You’re not going to know until you get over there really. If that race has geed him up or not, we won’t know. He’s definitely a bit more geed-up in the mornings but he has been since the Spiral really.”

And in the “You learn something new every day” category, geed-up is actually a real term – not Motion inventing words. The second definition of gee or gee up, according to the Oxford American Dictionary is: “a command to a horse to go faster.”

Now you know.

NOTES: Animal Kingdom will gallop to the Preakness with no speed or timed workout scheduled, though Motion said the Team Valor homebred would gallop more strongly Thursday and Friday (much like he did the last two days before the Derby) . . . Motion is leaning toward staying at Fair Hill until Saturday morning and shipping to Pimlico with his other runners on raceday . . . Assistant trainer Adrian Rolls said that Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner was 100 percent Monday and might get back to some light work this week.

Worth Repeating (all from Graham Motion)
On ticking off days to the Preakness: “I have a feeling that as much as I wanted last week to last a long time, I think I’m going to want this week to hurry up and get to Saturday.”

On a horse (not Animal Kingdom) with bad manners: “Has he bitten anyone today?”

After being told an interview request from NPR’s Talk of the Nation was a big deal: “Are you taking the Mickey, or are you serious?”

Name of the Day
Red Dust, a Team Valor horse with a coat that mixes chestnut and white.


*PHOTO: Animal Kingdom trains at Fair Hill Monday morning (Maggie Kimmitt).


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