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Dubai World Cup

DUBAI: ANIMAL KINGDOM IN FOCUS
by Geir Stabell / Globeform
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Dubai

Animal Kingdom was due to run in the Dubai World Cup (G1) last year, but ruled out due to injury. This five-year-old is one of the best horses in North America though his progress has been hindered by injuries and he has had an interrupted career. He seems to be seriously back on track these days, however, and his last two performances suggest that he will have a big say in the $10 million contest on March 30.

The World Cup may also be the first leg of a an attempt at a unique double for Team Valor's star, as they have also set their sights on Royal Ascot in the summer. Animal Kingdom is one of those very few horses capable of producing top class form over various racing surfaces. He won the Kentucky Derby (G1) on dirt at Churchill Downs in 2011, after having captured Spiral Stakes (G3) over the Polytrack at Turfway Park, and last autmn he was an excellent second in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) on turf. Turf horses normally adapt well to the Tapeta track and there is no reason to doubt that Animal Kingdom will be effective over Meydan's main track. In fact, he is one of two horses vying for favouritism in the big race, the other being Royal Delta.

Animal Kingdom came with an impressive finish to beat Nehro and Mucho Macho Man in 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1), and seemed destined for even better things. After a good run for second in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico and a dull run in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in New York (on a terrible, sloppy track), Animal Kingdom was sidelined. He was ruled out of all the big autumn races in North America.

He came back from that break to win easily over Gulfstream Park's turf course in February 2012 and seemed to be on target for a trip to Meydan. Then trainer Graham Motion had to stop with the colt once more. Motion, a patient horseman of the highest calibre, enjoyed full support from the owners, Team Valor. The son of Leroidesanimaux, who was also a champion, was given plenty of time to recover. When he did race again, more than nine months after his Gulfstream win, it was not exactly in a 'soft spot'. Animal Kingdom made his comeback in the Breeders' Cup Turf Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, where he was set to meet eventual Horse of The Year Wise Dan, the very good European miler Excelebration as well as a strong trio of Californian based turf milers; Obviously, Jeranimo and Mr. Commons.

Wise Dan was a heavy favourite to beat them all, which he did quite readily, but Animal Kingdom's run also earned rave reviews. After being blocked early in the straight, he simply flew up by the inside rail, passing horses easily at the finish to get up for second. Wise Dan was a solid winner, passing the winning post 1 ½ lengths to the good, and probably would have landed the spoils regardless. Though, given a clean run Animal Kingdom would have finished closer. It was one of the best comeback races seen for a long time. Now, Team Valor International's president Barry Irwin and Motion could begin planning for a trip to the Middle East.

With just two runs, his season was concluded. Connections were happy that he was back and long term plan was drawn up for his 2013 campaign. When he did return to racing action, getting a pipe opener in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) in Florida last month, some US writers warned the racing fans: «This may be the last time we see Animal Kingdom run in North America» they wrote. That may be right, though if all goes well with him through the season another trip to the Breeders' Cup must be tempting.

He was expected to win at Gulfstream Park, but did not. After what was less than a satisfactory race (with a very slow early pace) he was beaten by Point of Entry, a multiple Grade One winner on turf. A stronger pace would have suited Animal Kingdom better, then so could one say for Point of Entry, and perhaps it all boiled down to which of the two was the fittest on the day. Point of Entry did seem sharp, while Motion had naturally left something to work on with his horse.

Don't forget, he has long since been training this horse with one thing in mind; a peak performance at Meydan. If he gets that, Animal Kingdom will be tough to beat. He has a good chance of becoming the ninth US based horse to lift the World Cup. Their phenomenal record started with Cigar winning the inaugural running of this fantastic race in 1996 developed further with Silver Charm, Captain Steve, Pleasently Perfect, Roses in May, Invasor, Curlin and Well Armed, who won the Dubai World Cup in 2009, the last time it was staged at Nad Al Sheba. Americans have not fared so well at Meydan, where their best placing over the past three years was Gio Ponti's fourth behind Gloria de Campeao three years ago. Incidentally, their second best placing on Tapeta is Gio Ponti's fifth behind Victoire Pisa a year later. Like Animal Kingdom, Gio Ponti was a runner with high class form on turf. Though Animal Kingdom is a better horse than Gio Ponti was.

Proven on turf, dirt and over a synthetic surface, Animal Kingdom is ideally suited by 1 ¼ miles and likes it best when the early pace is hot – as that suits his late charging style. He is by the Brazilian bred Leroidesanimaux, who won eight races on the trot and became a mile champion on turf for the late Bobby Frankel in North America, and out of the German bred mare Dalicia, a daughter of the great German champion racehorse and sire Acatenango.

This is a truly international pedigree and it is also a nice blend of speed and stamina. It is a pedigree that would be most befitting for a World Cup winner.



Last update: 2013-03-07 12:17:26 (First published: 2013-03-07 08:48:07 )

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