The dust was long settled from the Superstar Saturday some 50 miles to the south down the Florida Turnpike at Gulfstream Park and the atmosphere was still buzzing early Sunday morning at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach.
A few birds chirped, plenty more stopwatches beeped. Cars and SUVs pulled in and out. Trainers came and went from the main clocking stand on a seasonal morning, partly cloudy and plenty warm for 6 a.m.
Todd Pletcher, rolling right along with three winners the day before led by Donn Handicap-G1 winner Graydar, called out splits into his walkie-talkie. Tom Bush got some congratulations for a strong effort Saturday by Unbridled Command. Rick Violette, Mark Frostad, Tom Albertrani, Chad Brown, Kelly Breen. They’re all here. Barclay Tagg, not looking a day older than he did 10 years ago (is it that long ago?) when he won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, comes by on the pony to breeze a pair in company. Triple Crown hopefuls – including Normandy Invasion breezing five for Brown in a co-bullet – zip past.
The mood is loose. It’s business as usual at Palm Meadows, far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Hallandale Beach and Miami. Good for people. Better for horses. It seems like an ordinary day, only the big topic of conversation wasn’t about who might win Sunday’s feature at Gulfstream, or the five-overtime game between Louisville and Notre Dame (too late of an end for this crowd, the writer included).
The talk centered largely on Animal Kingdom’s middle move in the Kitten’s Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. The consensus was that Joel Rosario, aboard Animal Kingdom for the first time, might have erred and moved a bit prematurely in the middle stages of the 1 1/8-mile race.
The move – Rosario moving Animal Kingdom from fifth to the lead in a few strides – came just as the field was approaching the far turn. The move was swift – producing strong internal fractions of 22.72 for the third quarter-mile and 22.47 for the fourth. The burst was costly.
Point Of Entry flew home to win decisively, running the last eighth in 11.29, with a rush that many expected Animal Kingdom to make.
“People want to say there were positives, but I don’t see anything positive about what happened yesterday,” a still frustrated Graham Motion said Sunday at Palm Meadows. “The horse had a hard race, but I think we got outsmarted. I don’t necessarily think it was all Joel’s fault. It’s a shame with this horse and my biggest concern going into this race was we were using a different jockey. Maybe that’s partly my fault. I think a lot of it is circumstances. It’s not often you win the Derby and you’re not able to get a jockey to stick with the horse. It’s just been circumstances more than anything. That’s my frustration about it.”
John Velazquez, who rode Point Of Entry to victory and also beat Animal Kingdom in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November, rode Animal Kingdom to victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Rafael Bejarano rode Animal Kingdom in the Mile, finishing second after a troubled trip.
“We had to deal with it in the Breeders’ Cup,” Motion said. “Rafael didn’t give the horse a bad ride, he had an unlucky trip. I’m not a jockey critic. These guys make split-second decisions. I don’t think he did the right thing yesterday, but he doesn’t know the horse very well. Johnny actually won the race because he knows the horse so well.”
Animal Kingdom bounced back and was bright and alert Sunday morning, perhaps better than his trainer, who conceded earlier that he might not have enjoyed the most restful of evenings.
The plan remains to bring the 5-year-old to Dubai for the $10-million Dubai World Cup, and Motion said he’ll work on a training regimen in reverse of when the horse would travel to Dubai.
“I really want to do the work here,” Motion said. “I don’t want to breeze him over there. So depending on when we had to leave I’ll have to come up with a work schedule.”
Motion was complimentary of the winner, a three-time Grade 1 winner whose connections are also considering a trip to Dubai for the $5-million Dubai Sheema Classic on turf.
Like Animal Kingdom, Point Of Entry was making his first start since the Breeders’ Cup, a runner-up effort behind Little Mike in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf.
“The horse lost nothing, and was beaten by what’s probably one of the best turf horses in the country if not for Wise Dan,” Motion said. “It’s more frustrating than anything, especially with a horse like him when you’re only running a couple of times.”