Animal Kingdom zipped a half-mile in :47.76 on the Belmont Park surface June 6 as the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner showed his readiness for the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The time was the fastest of 32 horses working the distance.
With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Animal Kingdom was timed in :24.18 for the first quarter-mile and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.60 while working in company with Corredor Dela Isla. Both horses are owned by Team Valor International. Animal Kingdom pulled up six furlongs in 1:14.38.
“He went super,” said trainer Graham Motion, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. “I thought he might go a tick slower but I’m not surprised he did what he did. I’m not familiar with (Belmont), but they tend to work a little quick on this track.
"He hasn’t changed at all throughout the Triple Crown; he’s remarkable. He has taken everything in stride and hasn’t gotten worked up about it. Physically, he’s handled everything great. Johnny said he did it all on his own, and he didn’t even ask him to gallop out.”
“Having run that many times, who has a girth like that?” Team Valor's Barry Irwin said in reference to how Animal Kingdom looked walking back to the barn. “He has handled everything really nicely. And he moved today like a grass horse. His feet hardly left the ground and he looked like he was going in :50 (for a half-mile). He still has a lot of energy and doesn’t look like a tired horse.”
The Derby winner broke off just behind his workmate and pulled on even terms at quarter pole. The two horses finished together and Animal Kingdom was going very easily throughout the stretch. After the wire, he pulled away and galloped out 10 lengths clear.
“He was half-way running off with me to the pole," Velazquez said. "I tried to get him to go as slow as I could but he got very competitive with the other horse. He liked the track. I think he knew he had the jockey on him because he just played with me. I wanted to put him in behind the other horse. I was almost clipping heels galloping to the pole. I took him to the outside and he got real strong. I let the other horse start out in front of me. After about an eighth, he got back into the bridle again. Once we got head to head at the quarter pole, I was fighting him to get him back. I said ‘OK, you’re a big boy and I can’t do anything.’ He galloped out very strong. Once we passed the other horse he just kept going.
Animal Kingdom’s victory in the May 7 Derby was his first on a dirt racing surface after running his first five career races on grass and artificial surfaces. The son of Leroidesanimaux has three wins and three seconds in six starts and has earned $1,938,700.
Following the Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom finished second in the May 21 Preakness Stakes, (gr. I), which was won by Belmont contender Shackleford.