Unmatched Thrill for Animal Kingdom Partners

Unmatched Thrill for Animal Kingdom Partners
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Animal Kingdom's connections in the Kentucky Derby Winner's Circle

Some of the partners in Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom   have been investors for some time, but nothing prepared them for May 7 when the colt won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Now it’s on to the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The owners are looking forward to the second leg of the Triple Crown—but they don’t want the euphoria of winning the Derby to end.

“Needless to say it was like winning the biggest lottery jackpot in the land,” said Bruce Zoldan, who first invested with Team Valor about 10 years ago. “People ask me if I’m still on Cloud 9, and I say, ‘I’m really happy to be in the Preakness but would be delighted if it were run two weeks later so I can enjoy the glory for another couple of weeks.'

“It was beyond my expectations,” said Zoldan, chief executive officer of Phantom Fireworks in Youngstown, Ohio, who has attended the Kentucky Derby for 30 years. “Ten years ago when I joined Team Valor, it was my dream to have a horse qualify for the Derby, but it wasn’t my only motivation. It would be like getting into any business and asking to be number one in the world.”

Sue Fletcher has no background in horse racing, but a friend was a Thoroughbred owner and she believed it might be worth a try. Half a decade later, she is co-owner of a Kentucky Derby winner.

“My sister (from Ohio) was with me (at Churchill Downs for the Derby), and it was her first-ever horse race,” Fletcher said. “There’s nothing like starting at the top. It was so unbelievable—almost surreal. We were laughing and crying while jumping up and down.”

Fletcher said Animal Kingdom “has an excellent chance” in the Preakness given the fact he’s “strong and determined” and has an “amazing jockey and trainer” in John Velazquez and Graham Motion, respectively.

“This is like a fairy tale to me,” she said. “I’m loving every minute of it.”

Lee Midkiff joined Team Valor less than two years ago and has been involved in more than 20 horses as well as the purchase of the barn at Fair Hill Training Center where Animal Kingdom is based. Midkiff developed an interest in horse racing by spending time at Churchill Downs while in college.

“It’s really hard to articulate the Derby experience,” Midkiff said. “Graham (Motion) used the same term that I keep using when asked the question, ‘that it was completely surreal.’ The ‘bucket list’ item for me was simply getting to the Derby, and while you inevitably have a dream to win, it seemed as though it was something that was probably out of reach.

“Just making the walk from the barn to the paddock was enough to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Winning took it to an entirely new level. The one element I have said to others regarding the experience was that you quickly realize an entire spectrum of emotions that you didn’t realize were possible.”

Zoldan called Team Valor president Barry Irwin “an asset to the horse racing business.”

“I’m so happy for him that he has shown he can select (a horse) and design a way to get into the Kentucky Derby and win the Kentucky Derby,” said Zoldan, who ranks attending the Derby higher than many other major sporting events, including the Super Bowl.

In 2007 Irwin renamed the stable to include the word “international” to reflect the company’s business plan. Irwin is known for scoping out prospects in other countries.

Animal Kingdom is a Team Valor Kentucky homebred, but he’s by Brazilian-bred stallion Leroidesanimaux out of the German-bred mare Dalicia.

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