Keeneland records show that Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) entrant Animal Kingdom was bought by his breeder, Team Valor International, for $100,000 from Craig and Holly Bandoroff’s Denali Stud, agent, at the 2009 September yearling sale. Such a transaction usually indicates a buy-back and the owner’s failure to get the price he wanted, but that isn’t the true story, according to Team Valor founder and chief executive officer Barry Irwin.
The partnership that owned Animal Kingdom was being dissolved because some of its members, Richard and Audrey Haisfield of Stonewall Farm, had financial problems, Irwin said, and he opted to buy out his partners. Irwin then formed another Team Valor partnership to race the 3-year-old son of the champion Leroidesanimaux.
“He was a big, good looking horse,” said Irwin of Animal Kingdom as a yearling, “and I thought he would develop more and look even better.”
A 30-1 longshot on the morning line for the Derby, which will be run May 7 at Churchill Downs, Animal Kingdom captured the March 26 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) on Turfway Park’s synthetic Polytrack surface. He has won two of his four career races while earning $326,900.
Irwin has played an important role in every phase of Animal Kingdom’s conception and development. The Kentucky-based horseman said he purchased the colt’s dam, group III winner Dalicia, at a Baden-Baden mixed auction in Germany and the daughter of Acatenango ran for Team Valor and the Haisfields’ NeverTell Racing in this country. Irwin and Team Valor also were involved in campaigning Animal Kingdom’s sire during part of his career and were the key players in the deal that sent Leroidesanimaux to the Haisfields’ Stonewall stallion operation.
The mating that produced Animal Kingdom came about because Leroidesanimaux “was the best horse available on the day,” Irwin said. “We originally had Dalicia booked to Kingmambo, but he went offline because he hurt his back or something. We had to come up with something else and that (breeding her to Leroidesanimaux) was what I came up with. It certainly has worked out so far.”
Team Valor is more widely known for its racing partnerships, but has eight partnership-owned horses in its broodmare band, which is kept at Denali Stud near Paris, Ky. Denali’s owners, the Bandoroffs, are members of the Animal Kingdom partnership and they also owned part of his dam.
Dalicia is no longer a Team Valor broodmare band member because she was sold for the same reason that Animal Kingdom was. While in foal to Mr. Greeley, she brought $397,316 from Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Stud of Japan when offered by European Sales Management, agent, at Tattersalls in England in 2009.
“We’re breeding to race primarily,” Irwin said. “If we like them (the foals), we keep them and if we don’t want to run them, we sell them. I think success in breeding is based on health and youth. Mares produce their best foals early. Having old mares is very risky. All of my mares, except for one or two, are young.”
“When Pluck won the Breeders’ Cup, it didn’t really mean that much to me at the time that he was a homebred,” Irwin said. “I was just thrilled to own the horse and it was a little bit of fun. Animal Kingdom, for some reason, seems to be more fun. I bought the sire and the dam, so I had a hand in the whole deal.”
Irwin’s interest in breeding is growing.
“I’m getting to like it more and more because I know what went into the horses,” he explained. “When I buy at the yearling sales or buy a 2-year-old, I’m just guessing. But with a homebred I know exactly what the score is, and that means a lot to me in this day and age.”
Animal Kingdom's 2-year-old half brother, Thursby (by Mr. Greeley), is owned by a Team Valor partnership and is in the care of Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion.