John Velazquez will ride his 2011 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom when the recent Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) hero makes his career finale at the mid-June Royal Ascot meeting in England.
"Johnny knows the horse better than any other rider and he has had success at Royal Ascot," trainer Graham Motion said. "He won on a straightaway at Royal Ascot and if we decide to go in the (one-mile) Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) on opening day up the straight, that experience figures to come in handy."
Velazquez rode at Royal Ascot in 2000, 2009, and 2011. He has not been aboard Animal Kingdom since an allowance win at Gulfstream Park in February 2012. Joel Rosario guided Animal Kingdom to his dominating triumph in the Dubai World Cup.
Barry Irwin of current co-owner Team Valor said Velazquez's experience at Ascot was key in making the decision.
"No American jockey is riding better than Joel right now," Irwin said. "We thought he gave a peerless performance in the World Cup. But we don't think it would be fair for the jockey to ride him on a straightaway when neither jockey nor horse had done it before.
"Dropping from a mile and a quarter around turns on a synthetic track to running uphill on a straight course on grass is quite a transition for any horse, especially at this level. So the decision to go with a jockey that knows the horse and the course made the job easier. It was a difficult decision."
Also factoring in the decision was Velazquez's willingness to fly to England in order to breeze Animal Kingdom prior to the Royal meeting.
Motion has nominated Animal Kingdom to both the opening-day group I Queen Anne Stakes and the second-day Prince of Wales's Stakes (Eng-I) at 1 1/4 miles, keeping his options open as the horse steps up his preparations.
Animal Kingdom has raced 11 times with 5 wins and 5 seconds. With earnings of $8,387,500 the Leroidesanimaux horse ranks behind only three other American-based horses in career earnings on the all-time list.