United States-based star Animal Kingdom appears poised to solidify his place among racing's all-time greats June 18 in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I), the first race on opening day at Royal Ascot.
The one-mile turf event attracted 12 other entrants, including European champion and multiple group I winner Elusive Kate and multiple group III winner Declaration of War. The race goes off at approximately 9:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday and can be viewed on either TVG or HRTV.
Jockey John Velazquez has the mount on Animal Kingdom, the 4-6 favorite bidding to become the first horse to win at the grade or group I level on three different surfaces in three nations. Animal Kingdom was bred by Team Valor, which sold a majority interest to Australia's Arrowfield Stud in preparation for his stallion career. An additional share in Animal Kingdom was later purchased by Darley in Kentucky, where he will stand when he shuttles to the Northern Hemisphere. This is to be the final start for the versatile chestnut.
The 5-year-old Leroidesanimaux horse will try for the third group I victory of his career, following victories in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) on dirt at Churchill Downs and the 2013 Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 30 on the all-weather track at Meydan. Both of those wins were at 1 1/4 miles.
"It is completely unique," Ascot's Nick Smith said of Animal Kingdom's task. "It's a bit like a tennis player trying to win on every surface. What his connections are trying here is really brave, and tremendous for the event."
Animal Kingdom has never won at the Queen Anne's mile distance, but his good second to Wise Dan in the 2012 Breeder's Cup Mile (gr. IT) on the Santa Anita Park turf off a long layoff suggests a victory is within his reach. While he has never previously been tried on a straight and undulating course, the uphill finish should play to his late-running style.
"I was a little worried about the straightaway but I've seen him work a couple times now and right now I'm extremely confident," said Team Valor chief executive officer Barry Irwin. "That's based not just on what I see but from Ted Durcan, the jockey, and the trainer David Lanigan where the horse has been training in Lambourn. They have seen enough horses go up that hill to tell what the difference is. Seeing their expressions and hearing them has made me feel very confident."
Trained by Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom will be the third Kentucky Derby winner to race at Royal Ascot, following the 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha and the 1928 winner Reigh Count.
Last year, odds-on favorite Frankel scored a scintillating 11-length win in the Queen Anne while producing an all-time high 147 Timeform rating. He is one of only two favorites to have won the Queen Anne since the race was upgraded to group I status in 2003, but five second favorites enjoyed success.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien's highly regarded Declaration of War, currently the 7-1 second favorite for this year's Queen Anne, disappointed when fifth to Farhh in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) in his first top-level start May 18 at Newbury. The loss halted a three-race win streak for the War Front colt that included the 2012 Diamond Stakes (Ire-III) at Dundalk and Heritage Stakes at Leopardstown.
Elusive Kate, the 8-1 third choice, will make her first start of the year for trainer John Gosden. With a win last year in the Prix Rothschild (Fr-I) and in 2011 in the Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium des Pouliches (Fr-I), the 4-year-old Elusive Quality filly is the only other horse in the race to win at the group I level.
In her most recent start, Elusive Kate finished third behind winner Excelebration and Cityscape in the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) Oct. 20 at Ascot. She performs well when fresh and was reported to be in good form training at Newmarket.
A press conference with the connections of Animal Kingdom. Hear from Graham Motion, Barry Irwin, and John Messara. Learn why they chose to go with jockey John Velazquez.
Animal Kingdom continues his preparations for Royal Ascot. Also comments from his connections, including trainer Graham Motion.