Animal Kingdom likely in Preakness
He became the first horse in the 137-year history of the Derby to win in his debut on dirt, having run three times on synthetic surfaces and once on the turf in his four previous races.
Animal Kingdom will return to Maryland on Tuesday to begin preparations for the 1 3-16-mile Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico, about 60 miles from his home base at Fair Hill Training Center.
Trainer Graham Motion wants to keep jockey John Velazquez on his colt for the Preakness, and it seems likely that will happen.
Animal Kingdom’s regular rider, Robby Albarado, broke his nose and had facial cuts and abrasions after a spill Wednesday. He took himself off his mounts Thursday and Friday. That influenced the decision of Barry Irwin, who oversees the Team Valor partnership that owns Animal Kingdom.
Irwin and Motion agreed to go with Velazquez, who was available after Uncle Mo was scratched Friday. Albarado said he took the days off to prepare for the Derby, a decision he said “backfired.”
Uncle Mo’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Sunday the colt wouldn’t run in either of the final two Triple Crown races while the lingering ailment that is bothering him is diagnosed. That leaves Velazquez free to continue riding Animal Kingdom.
“It would be a very hard decision from me to get off this horse to go to another one,” the jockey said after winning his first Derby in 13 tries. “That’s just the way it is.”
Irwin said it’s likely but not yet certain Animal Kingdom will continue on the Triple Crown trail.
“I’m pretty sure we’re going to do it, but I want to talk about it,” he said Sunday. “I’m a careful guy, so let’s see how he’s doing. If you’ve got a horse that’s amazing, you can go for the Preakness. But your regular, average Derby winner has a real tough time coming back.”
Animal Kingdom proved his pedigree as a turf horse wrong in the Derby.
“Some of the best horses were ones who were able to handle both (turf and dirt),” Motion said. “He appears to be one of those great horses that can handle both.”
There are 20 people in the Team Valor partnership that owns Animal Kingdom. Irwin said he sold a small interest in the colt two weeks before the Derby based on an estimated value of $2 million.
“In order for him to really be worth a lot of money, he’s got to go on and do something more than just winning the Derby. I mean the Derby’s big. It’s the biggest race there is,” Irwin said.
“But breeders are very picky, skeptical people and he doesn’t have a fashionable pedigree. So he’s got to become a phenomenal racehorse in order to become worth a whole lot of money. If he won the Triple Crown, then there’d be no question. But if he wins just the Preakness, would that make him an automatic hit as a stallion? I don’t know.”
While Irwin mulls the Preakness, the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes is a strong option.
“The Belmont is the kind of race that this horse is bred to win, let’s face it,” Irwin said.
Derby runner-up Nehro is under consideration for the Preakness, but owner Ahmed Zayat said the Belmont Stakes on June 11 is a more likely spot for the colt’s next race.
Mucho Macho Man, who finished third, will run in the Preakness “as long as everything is good,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said.
Fourth-place Shackleford is likely to challenge Animal Kingdom in the Preakness, too.
Derby favorite Dialed In was never a factor in finishing eighth. Trainer Nick Zito said the colt would try again in the Preakness, where, as the winner of the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby, he’s eligible for a $5.5 million bonus if he wins at Pimlico.
The newcomers who could challenge Animal Kingdom are: Concealed Identity, Dance City, Flashpoint, King Congie, Mr. Commons, Norman Asbjornson, Prime Cut, Saratoga Red and Sway Away, who was excluded from the Derby field for a lack of stakes earnings.
Midnight Interlude, who finished 16th for trainer Bob Baffert, will remain at Churchill Downs. Baffert said that if the colt continues training well, he could run in the Preakness.
The Derby runners not moving on to Baltimore are: Brilliant Speed, Pants On Fire, Twice the Appeal, Soldat, Stay Thirsty, Watch Me Go, and Comma to the Top.
Pants On Fire bled significantly after finishing ninth, and trainer Kelly Breen said the colt would be given some rest.
Archarcharch was scheduled to have surgery at a clinic in Lexington after fracturing his left front leg while finishing 15th.
He was bumped coming out of the starting gate, jockey Jon Court’s saddle slipped and then the colt got bumped again.
Trainer Jinks Fires said he wouldn’t know if Archarcharch could race again until after the surgery.
“It feels like a knife to the gut,” said Court, son-in-law of the 70-year-old trainer who saddled his first Derby horse.