Animal Kingdom at the Kentucky Derby.

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Animal Kingdom at the Kentucky Derby.
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Rick Samuels

Animal Kingdom Awarded for Classic Success

Kentucky Derby winner rode classic success to championship.

Never before had the top two Eclipse Award vote getters in the 3-year-old male division been so much like the proverbial apples and oranges comparison, which made voting in 2011 so unique and difficult.

That is how different the two protagonists, Animal Kingdom  (by Leroidesanimaux--Dalicia, by Acatenango) and Caleb’s Posse, were from each other. Voters had  to decide between a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner and Preakness (gr. I) runner-up who didn’t race after June 11 and a one-turn specialist who was just another of the nondescript 3-year-olds on the Derby trail until he had a big breakthrough after being shortened up to one turn.

In the end the voters went classic as Animal Kingdom was honored Jan. 16 with an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. He edged Caleb’s Posse by a first-place vote tally of 114 to 111. Shackleford, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, received 12 first-place votes, followed by Ruler On Ice (5), Stay Thirsty (4), and Uncle Mo (1). There was one abstention in this category.

Owned and bred by Team Valor and trained by Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom was not even considered his owner’s main Derby hopeful in late March when he was entered in the non-graded Rushaway Stakes at Turfway, while Crimson China went in the rich Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) on the same card. But when Crimson China failed to make the starting field due to lack of earnings, their roles were reversed, with Animal Kingdom having earned slightly more money.

When Animal Kingdom won the Spiral on Polytrack, he thrust himself into the Derby picture and on the first Saturday in May he defeated 18 of the best 3-year-olds in training at the time. Animal Kingdom won the classic by an impressive win by 2 3/4 lengths in his first start ever on dirt, something that had never been achieved before.

A fast-closing second in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom was sent off as the 5-2 favorite for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). But a disastrous start, in which he stumbled badly, nearly falling and unseating jockey John Velazquez, cost him all chance. After making a spectacular run on the far turn, he faded to sixth in what was to be his final start of the year, due to a hind leg fracture.