Animal Kingdom winning the Dubai World Cup.
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Animal Kingdom winning the Dubai World Cup.
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Mathea Kelley

Royal Ascot Entries Include Animal Kingdom

U.S. entries include three horses from trainer Ken McPeek.

Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom  and Java's War , who is being pointed to this year's Louisville classic, are among the U.S.-trained horses being considered for Royal Ascot.

Royal Ascot announced early entries April 24 for its seven group I races that will be contested from June 18-22.

Among the horses pointing for the Queen Anne Stakes is Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Animal Kingdom, who lists the one-mile Queen Anne June 18 as his primary option. Arrowfield Stud and Team Valor's Animal Kingdom also was entered early by trainer Graham Motion in the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales's Stakes scheduled for June 19.

The 5-year-old Leroidesanimaux horse has arrived in Britain and is based at David Lanigan's yard in Lambourn.

Trainer Kenny McPeek could have three runners at Royal Ascot this year. Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Java's War, a homebred for Charles Fipke, and War Dancer , a recent allowance race winner on the Keeneland turf who is owned by McPeek's wife Susan, are possible starters in the St James's Palace Stakes.

Java's War announced himself as a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby when rallying to victory in the Blue Grass on Polytrack April 13 at Keeneland. The son of War Pass, who made a winning debut on turf in September, had previously chased home Verrazano  in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) on dirt in March.

"Java's War has been good since his win in the Blue Grass Stakes and there have been no problems but whether or not he goes to Royal Ascot would depend on how he is running and doing over the next several weeks," McPeek said. "He ran an excellent race in the Blue Grass and he is a horse who certainly understands what he is supposed to do when he is out there. I would be a little bit concerned that the St James' Palace Stakes will be a little bit too short for him but the way the track is, it plays out a little further and brings stamina into play."

The St. James's Palace is a one-mile race for 3-year-old colts scheduled June 18. McPeek thinks Java's War would run well on turf.

"I think he likes the synthetics but he has run well on everything we have put him on and his pedigree suggests turf," McPeek said. "Mr Fipke will ultimately decide where we run but I think it is a good option for him.

"He will definitely run in the Kentucky Derby next and his run behind Verrazano is obviously good form because (Verrazano ) is now favorite for the race. The Kentucky Derby is a different race though; at a mile and a quarter anything can happen."

War Dancer, by War Front , has won two of his three starts on turf and scored decisively at 1 1/8 miles April 10 at Keeneland.

"War Dancer was very impressive on his latest start," McPeek said. "He got left at the gate but proceeded to win anyway and is a horse with a big future. We really like this horse on the grass and I would love to think he could make the St James' Palace Stakes. Although he hasn't had a lot of racing, I know he is very talented."

McPeek plans to first start War Dancer in the American Turf Stakes (gr. II) May 3 at Churchill Downs.
"If he was to win that, I would be really interested to see how he would get on in a race like the St James's Palace," McPeek said.

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have previously supported the Royal Ascot meet and could be represented this year by Charming Kitten, who finished third behind Java's War in the Blue Grass Stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher currently is considering starting Charming Kitten in the Derby.

McPeek also is considering grade I winner Pure Fun for the Coronation Stakes on June 21, a one-mile contest for 3-year-old fillies that has attracted 58 early entries for the 2013 renewal.

"I wanted to have the Coronation Stakes as an option for Pure Fun," McPeek said. "She is owned by a nice group of people and it will depend on how she runs in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She has been competitive on the grass and she has already won a grade I so to even place in another one would be a big deal." 

McPeek is no stranger to having runners at Ascot, having sent over Hard Buck to finish second in the 2004 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I), while his most recent runner at the Royal meeting, Casper's Touch, was third in the 2010 Chesham Stakes.

Among the early entries from the U.S. in the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Eng-I) who would be saddling horses for the first time at Royal Ascot are Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill with Handsome Mike  and Darrin Miller with Havelock. Handsome Mike is a versatile performer stateside, with his victories including the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and the Commonwealth Stakes (gr. III) over seven furlongs at Keeneland. Havelock has been campaigned mostly over six and seven furlongs and was last seen taking the Shakertown Stakes over five furlongs April 13 at Keeneland.

More than a dozen countries could be represented in Royal Ascot's group I contests this year. In total, there are 367 group I early entries up from 344 in 2012 and the highest figure since 2008.

"We are delighted with the number of entries, the range of countries that they represent, and the overall quality," said Nick Smith, head of communications and international racing at Ascot. "The interest from the USA is particularly strong this year, headlined by arguably the highest profile horse in the world in Animal Kingdom. If he were to add a Royal Ascot group I to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup he would cement and enhance his position as an all-time great on the world stage."

Further international representation is expected in Royal Ascot's group II contests, the entries for which are revealed next week. American conditioner Wesley Ward is considering sending a team to contest the 2-year-old contests at the meeting.