Animal Kingdom took the overland route to a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) when he drew off late for a 2 3/4-length win in the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park March 26 (VIDEO).
Team Valor International's homebred son of Leroidesanimaux earned $285,000 in his graded stakes debut, which should be enough to get the 3-year-old colt into the Kentucky Derby if that is the direction trainer Graham Motion and Team Valor's Barry Irwin decide to go.
With temperatures hovering around 30 degrees in Florence, Ky., the stalking Animal Kingdom ranged into contention on the far outside leaving the final turn for jockey Alan Garcia and outfought Decisive Moment in the stretch, pulling away in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Decisive Moment, ridden by Kerwin Clark, was a clear second by 3 1/4 lengths over third-place finisher Twinspired and Victor Lebron. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack test was a slow 1:52.32.
The Spiral, first run in 1972, was known as the Lane's End Stakes from 2000-10 but changed names with Vinery taking over sponsorship this year.
Positive Response, the 17-10 favorite in the field of 11, was cooked by a hot pace. The front-running seven-length winner in Turfway's John Battaglia Memorial Stakes March 5 faded to finish eighth.
A race earlier on the Turfway card, Swift Warrior scored a two-length victory over Team Valor's Crimson China in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes. The result could have a bearing on the immediate future for Animal Kingdom, with Irwin indicating afterward that the Spiral Stakes victor may go directly to the Derby with Crimson China headed toward a possible start in Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) April 16 at Keeneland.
“We’ve kind of been pointing for this race for a while," Motion said. "We wanted to run Crimson China in this race because he seemed to be more mature, and we didn’t want to throw this horse into the deep end. I won’t be in a hurry to run him back in the Blue Grass off of this today.”
Animal Kingdom has two wins and two seconds in four lifetime starts, three of them on synthetic tracks and one -- a one-mile optional claiming allowance test in which he was second March 3 -- on the Gulfstream Park turf.
As far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned, Motion said, “We haven’t had him on the dirt but it’s something Barry and I will talk about. I don’t think distance is a problem. Now he’s got the earnings. We know he’s an impressive animal.”
Positive Response, pressed hard by 82-1 shot Son of Posse and Decisive Moment, set the pace along the inside for a half-mile, clicking off fractions of :23.57 and :46.56 before Decisive Moment put his head in front with three furlongs to run. Decisive Moment ran six furlongs in 1:12.57 and held a short advantage into the homestretch.
Animal Kingdom, unhurried early while saving ground for Garcia, advanced into fourth, a few lengths behind the frontrunners, on the far turn. He angled five paths wide leaving the bend as Son of Posse and Positive Response began to weaken, and inched past Decisive Moment approaching the furlong pole. He edged clear under confident handling to win with plenty left.
“My horse didn’t break that well and I had a little bit of trouble around the first turn," Garcia said. "So I decided to be patient and save ground. My horse responded very well today. I stayed on the rail because I had a feeling everybody would try to go wide. I figured that if he was good enough, he would make a move and he did. I’m very excited. The long distances will be good for him. Wherever they want to go with this horse, I want to be there.”
Decisive Moment, who gave in late, was well clear of third-place finisher Twinspired, who rallied willingly from ninth while widest of all in the stretch.
“I had a really good trip. The horse was a tad confused running on the Polytrack but he did lay off the pace so easy with his ears straight up," Clark said. "He’s getting better every time I ride him."
Beachcombing finished fourth, followed by Taptowne, Preachintothedevil, Son of Posse, Positive Response, Thirtyfirststreet, Glint, and Rescind the Trade.
Animal Kingdom, out of the German mare Dalicia (by Acatenango), paid $8, $4.60, and $4 as the second choice. Decisive Moment, fifth in the Risen Star (gr. II) in his previous start for trainer Juan Arias, returned $6.60 and $4.60 and rounded out a $58.20 exacta. Twinspired, fourth in the Battaglia after a poor start, was $6 to show.
In the Rushaway, Swift Warrior, ridden by Javier Castellano, led at every call on a pressured pace to defeat the 6-5 choice Crimson China, who rallied from last after a half-mile.
Swift Warrior opened a four-length edge mid-stretch and held the fast-closing Crimson Warrior, ridden by Garcia, safe to the wire. The Ole Gen was 3 1/4 lengths farther back in third with Gabriel Saez aboard. The final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.73.
It was the first stakes win for Swift Warrior, who was fourth but disqualified to eighth in the Dania Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf in his prior start Jan. 16.
Now trained by John Terranova for owners James Covello and James Dolan, Swift Warrior is a son of First Samurai --Afleet Summer, by Afleet. The chestnut colt was bred in Kentucky by Paget Bloodstock, Nearctic Bloodstock, and Carhue Investments.
Swift Warrior earned $59,520 for his third lifetime win in 12 starts and returned $10 for the win as the second choice in the field of nine.