Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom came from off the pace and roared down the stretch to win the 137th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) (VIDEO) by 2 3/4 lengths before a record crowd of 164,858 at Churchill Downs May 7.
The final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 2:02.04. John Velazquez rode the winner, who was making his first start on dirt for trainer Graham Motion. Velazquez was the jockey for Uncle Mo , who was scratched from the race May 6. He replaced Robby Albarado, who was injured in a riding mishap earlier in the week.
“I feel bad for Robby winning the Derby when he was here,” Velazquez said. “I know he got hurt. I know you are not on him but I know you were with me.”
Albarado suffered a broken nose when a horse reared on him in the post parade May 4. He took off his mounts the following two days, but rode Derby day.
The pace was tepid in the Derby as Shackleford led the field through splits of :23.74, :48.63, 1:13.40. The mile was run in 1:37.49.
As they passed the stands the first time, Shackleford had the lead under Jesus Castanon and was followed closely by Comma to the Top, Pants on Fire, Decisive Moment, and Soldat . Animal Kingdom sat mid-pack in the 19-horse field around the first turn and down the backstretch.
"It was an easier pace than some expected, but we were willing to take it," said Castanon. "He (Shackleford) led on his own and ran really, really big."
As the field approached the far turn, Pants on Fire put heat on Shackleford and the pair was met by a rallying Nehro under Corey Nakatani. Nehro challenged the lead in upper stretch but Shackleford held on gamely by a length at the eighth pole. Animal Kingdom, however, charged home with a wide move and collared the leaders. He bumped with Nehro around the sixteenth pole but quickly pulled clear approaching the wire.
“I had a really good trip,” Velazquez said of the race. “It was a little tight in the first turn and by the three-eighths pole I was in a tight spot but I held my ground. Once I pulled him out by the eighth pole, I knew he was gone.”
Animal Kingdom, a 20-1 shot making his fifth lifetime start, came to the Derby off a win in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) March 26 over Polytrack at Turfway Park.
Trained by Wayne Catalano at 2, Animal Kingdom ran second in his debut, an off-the-turf race going 1 1/16-miles over Arlington Park’s Polytrack Sept. 18. He returned Oct. 23 to break his maiden over the synthetic surface at Keeneland going 1 1/8 miles.
Animal Kingdom made his sophomore debut March 3 at Gulfstream, running second by a head in a optional claiming allowance at a mile on the turf. He then won the nine-furlong Spiral, defeating Derby horses Decisive Moment and Twinspired .
He earned $1,411,800 for the Kentucky Derby triumph, his third win in five starts.
This was the first Derby win for trainer Motion, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. In 1998, he sent Chilito to an 11th place finish in the Derby and his Adriano ran 19th in 2008. He was originally to come to Louisville with two runners. He also the trainer of Julian and Dianne Cotter’s Toby's Corner, winner of the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I).
"I was so impressed with how he handled everything today," Motion said of his Derby winner. "We just felt the most important thing about this race was having a clean trip; having a clean trip was the main objective and that was how it worked out."
Animal Kingdom also provided the first Derby win for Velazquez, who was making his 13th appearance in the race. His best finish came in 2001 when Invisible Ink ran second to Monarchos. He was the rider of Quality Road , who might have been the favorite in 2009 but was withdrawn from the race the week of the Derby.
A son of Leroidesanimaux, the Derby winner is the first foal out of the German-bred group-winning Dalicia, by Acatenango. Dalicia won the Preis der Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe (Ger-III) in 2005. She placed in three other stakes including the Lotto Hennen-Pokal (Ger-III).
Leroidesanimaux, a Brazilian-bred by Candy Stripes—Dissemble, by Ahonoora, was a top miler after shipping to North America in 2003. He won six graded stakes on the turf including the Atto Mile (gr. IT), Citation Handicap (gr. IT), and Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT). He ran second in the 2005 NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) behind Artie Shiller while being trained by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. He stands at Stonewall Farm Ocala in Florida. His fee for 2011 is $10,000.
Animal Kingdom returned $43.80, $19.60, and $13. Nehro paid $8.80 and $6.40. Mucho Macho Man paid $7 to show. The 16-13 exacta paid $329.80. The $2 trifecta was worth $3,952,.40 and the $2 superfecta paid a whopping $48,126.
Team Valor International is headed by Barry Irwin, a former turf writer and employee of The Blood-Horse. Team Valor has had much success in racing partnerships and has taken on a much more international presence over the last few years. In 1997 Team Valor's Captain Bodgit ran second in the Derby to Silver Charm.
"I've only won a couple of really big ones and when it happens, it's just surreal," Irwin said after the race. "You see it and you know what happened; you're there, but it's just hard to process.
"I like to try to make history if I can, and we made a lot of history today. This is the first horse that came to win this race with only four previous races since Exterminator in 1918; the first horse to win off a six-week layoff since Needles in 1956...so that means a lot to me."
Following Mucho Macho Man was Shackleford, Master of Hounds, Santiva , Brilliant Speed, 5-1 favorite Dialed In , Pants on Fire, Twice the Appeal, Soldat, Stay Thirsty , Derby Kitten, Decisive Moment, Archarcharch, Midnight Interlude, Twinspired , Watch Me Go, and Comma to the Top.
Nakatani said he put runner-up Nehro into the race earlier than usual because of the slow pace.
“He just kept running," he said. "He keeps grinding and he keeps going once he's got that cruising speed and the way the race set up there was no pace so it didn't set up for his style."
"I had a great trip," said jockey Rajiv Maragh, who rode third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man. "My horse gave me a great feeling all around the racetrack. At every point that I needed something from him, he gave it to me. He was just third."
Dialed In, the Florida Derby (gr. I) winner trained by Nick Zito, trailed the field for six furlongs before putting in a mild bid for jockey Julien Leparoux. He lost by 7 1/2 lengths.
“He had a good trip," Leparoux said. "It went the way we planned it in the back, but they didn’t back up to us today.”
All horses finished the race; however Archarcharch suffered a lateral condylar fracture in his right front and was removed from the track by ambulance.
“Archarcharch is fine,” said Dr. Larry Bramlage after the race. “He finished the race and didn’t show any distress until he actually finished his running. He’ll require surgery but it’s not an emergency situation. He’ll probably spend the night in his stall. It will depend on what’s best for him. He’ll require screws to be placed in the ankle. It’s something we do all the time. It’s not a life-threatening injury.”
"He just didn't feel comfortable the last sixteenth," said Archarcharch's rider Jon Court. "I never was really comfortable in the race. He had never felt like that underneath me, so I had the vet take him back as a precaution."
The record crowd on hand under the Twin Spires topped the mark of 163,628 set during the Derby’s 100th running in 1974.