The morning after saddling Animal Kingdom to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) (VIDEO), trainer Graham Motion was still trying to absorb the overwhelming feelings associated with winning America’s biggest race.
“Yesterday was surreal,” said Motion, who turns 47 years old on May 22, while addressing the media outside Churchill Downs’ Barn 22 on the morning of May 8. “To win the Derby is not something I ever expected to do. I’m always going to be considered a Kentucky Derby winning trainer and that speaks volumes.”
Motion, native of Great Britain whose family relocated to the United States when he was 16 years old, said unlike American-born trainers winning the Derby was never anything that he aspired to. “I mean no disrespect, but it wasn’t ingrained in me to win this race.”
Motion said Animal Kingdom came out of the Derby in good shape and will now be pointed toward the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course, just a short distance from the Fair Hill Training Center where the trainer’s stable is based.
“He didn’t appear to have a hard race and that will benefit us down the road,” Motion said, declining to discuss any plans for Animal Kingdom beyond the Preakness.
While some questioned how Animal Kingdom would perform over a conventional dirt track after racing only on grass and synthetic surfaces in his four starts previous to the Derby, Motion said he had a lot of confidence in the son of Leroidesanimaux bred and owned by Team Valor International.
“I have a lot of confidence in this horse. He is the total package,” Motion said. “He’s a brilliant horse. He’s an amazing animal. I felt really good about today.”
Motion acknowledged that he had a week filled with some of the ups and downs of horse racing. Earlier in the week, he was forced to withdraw Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Toby's Corner, considered by many to be the stronger of his two Derby contenders, from the race due to an undiagnosed lameness problem. Then, he and Team Valor president Barry Irwin made a decision to replace Robby Albarado on Animal Kingdom with jockey John Velazquez.
Albarado sustained facial injuries during the Wednesday race card at Churchill Downs after he was thrown from his mount and stepped on by another horse. Albarado did not ride on either the Thursday or Friday cards at Churchill, prompting the Animal Kingdom team to change riders. Velazquez became available after Uncle Mo , the one-time Derby favorite, was scratched due to an internal problem that has also not been diagnosed.
“Those were two of the toughest calls I’ve ever made,” Motion said of the call notifying owners Julian and Dianne Cotter about Toby’s Corner and Albarado about the jockey change.
Albarado told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he was not happy about the decision and that one reason he took off his May 5-6 mounts was so he could be ready to ride May 7. Indeed, earlier on the Derby Day card Albarado booted home Sassy Image to win the Humana Distaff (gr. I).
“It was purely about Robby’s well-being and whether he would be able to perform on Saturday,” Motion said of the decision.
Trainers of at least two other Derby horses—Mucho Macho Man and Dialed In —were making plans to join the Derby winner in the Preakness.
Trainer Kathy Ritvo said Mucho Macho Man, who closed to finish third, would be sent to New York’s Belmont Park to prepare for the Preakness. “He’s feeling good right now and if everything goes well he will go to the Preakness,” the trainer said.
Dialed In, who finished eighth as the 5-1 Derby favorite after getting off to a slow start, will also be pointed toward the Preakness, according to trainer Nick Zito.
“I was very disappointed,” Zito said. “He still came with his run and was running fast at the end. We have no excuses. I guess the Derby is a hard race to win... But that’s horse racing. You have to feel good for the (winning) connections.”
Another consideration for going on to the Preakness with Dialed In is that he is the only horse eligible for the Preakness 5.5, a promotion set up by racetrack owner MI Developments that will award a $5 million bonus and $500,000 to the trainer of a horse that wins selected races, including the Preakness. Dialed In is eligible on the basis of wins in the Holy Bull (gr. III) and Florida Derby (gr. I), both run at MID-owned Gulfstream Park.
“Obviously, you have to think about that. It’s a big bonus.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen said he and owner Ahmed Zayat would confer about where Derby runner-up Nehro goes next, but said any decision would not be made until after the colt goes back to the track to see how he’s doing.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said. "We will take a look at all that he's done in the last six weeks."
Zayat, however, said soon after visiting Nehro in his stall that the Preakness remains under consideration but the June 11 Belmont Stakes is a more likely spot for his next start.
“Let’s put it this way,” Zayat said, “if you looked at him right now you’d think you’d be out of your mind not to run in Baltimore. It’s more probable we’d aim for the Belmont but I guess we are still possible for the Preakness.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said 12th-place finisher Stay Thirsty would not be going to the Preakness but is possible for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He said he could start Dance City, who breezed at Churchill Downs on May 8, in the Preakness.
Pletcher said there was nothing new to report about Uncle Mo ’s condition and that veterinarians would further evaluate him before sending him to a vet clinic.
Fourth-place finisher Shackleford spent part of Sunday morning walking the shedrow at Barn 4, showing no ill effects from his pace-setting effort on Saturday. Next up for the colt owned by Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge is most likely a trip to Baltimore and the Preakness.
“He came out of the race fine, but I’m worn out,” said Dale Romans, who finished second in the Preakness last year with First Dude . “He will go back to the track Wednesday and leave for Baltimore the following Tuesday.”
“Bright as a button” was how traveling head lad T.J. Comerford described Mrs. John Magnier’s Master of Hounds following his fifth-place finish. Comerford was overseeing the loading of the handsome colt onto a van at Barn 45 just before 8 a.m. for a trip to Louisville International Airport and a flight Sunday evening back to Ireland. The son of Kingmambo was going to have to stand a five-hour quarantine prior to being allowed to board the flight.
“We were quite pleased with his effort,” Comerford stated. “The rider (Garrett Gomez) said at first he wasn’t liking all the kickback. First time he’s ever encountered that, so that was understandable. But by the time they got to the backstretch he’d gotten into it (the race). He closed well and gave a very good account of himself. His effort was first rate.”
Tom Walters’ Santiva came out of the Derby in good shape according to trainer Eddie Kenneally.
“He came out of the race fine,” Kenneally said of Santiva, who finished sixth, beaten a little more than five lengths. “I thought he got a good trip and ran well.”
Kenneally added that no decision had been made on Santiva’s next start.
George and Lori Hall’s homebred Pants On Fire “bled enough to say it was significant” from the exertion put forth in a ninth-place effort, trainer Kelly Breen said Sunday morning.
“One of the things we’re working on is his immune system,” Breen said. “We were staying on top of his lungs coming into this race so it’s a bit of a setback to say we have to work on him. Coming off a mile-and-a-quarter race it’s tough to say he’s not fit now, but you have to start from the inside out and heal him up. He’ll probably be going back to the track soon but he’ll just be doing it nice and easy.”
That said, the Preakness is almost certainly out of the question for Pants On Fire.
Robert and Val Yagos’ Archarcharch was scheduled to arrive at Rood & Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington Sunday afternoon for surgery on a condylar fracture to the left front.
For trainer Jinks Fires and his son-in-law, jockey Jon Court, their first-time Kentucky Derby experience turned into a nightmare.
Archarcharch was bumped coming out of the gate, where Fires thought the injury may have occurred. Then, Court’s saddle slipped and the colt got bumped again before the wire. Court got off Archarcharch on the far turn and the colt was vanned back to the barn.
“He got banged coming out of the gate and kind of knuckled over there at the crown of the track,” Fires said. “I told my wife that I didn’t like the way he was moving when he passed us the first time, and you hope you are wrong about that.”
Dr. Larry Bramlage will perform the surgery on the clean break.
Fires said he could not speculate on whether Archarcharch could return to the races. Bramlage “says you really don’t know (about a return to the races) until you go in there and see,” Fires said. “But he ran a mile and a quarter on it.”
Court was at the barn at 6:15 Sunday morning “to check on the big horse.”
“I’m just heart-broken,” Court said. “You are not supposed to get attached to the horses, but, c’mon, this horse, with the owners and everybody, it feels like a knife to the gut.