Horse racing: Despite layoff, Animal Kingdom in Breeders’ Cup
Of the 180 horses pre-entered for next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup, there’s only one who would be coming off a longer layoff than Animal Kingdom.
Because of injuries, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner has run just once since last year’s Belmont Stakes, an allowance win on the turf at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 18.
He missed the Dubai World Cup, but in May, trainer Graham Motion convinced Team Valor managing partner that the Breeders’ Cup was achievable, so here they are, pre-entered in the Mile at Santa Anita.
Besides the daunting layoff, Animal Kingdom will be taking on the likes of Wise Dan and Excelebration in just his third lifetime start on the grass.
“It seemed like an amazing, brilliant idea, and then as you get closer, you get slightly more nervous, but I think that’s human nature,” Motion said during a national teleconference on Tuesday.
The only other BC horse who has been away from the races longer than Animal Kingdom is the surprise pre-entry of Fast Bullet, trained by Bob Baffert, in the Sprint.
Not only has Fast Bullet not raced since last November, but he has just two lifetime starts — both wins — and no stakes experience.
Almost all of the 180 BC horses show a start in September and/or October of this year.
Besides the Gulfstream race, Animal Kingdom’s turf starts include a second by a head to Powhatan County at Gulfstream in March 2011.
That led to a win on the synthetic main track at Turfway Park in the Grade III Spiral, followed by his Derby win. Animal Kingdom was second to Shackleford in the Preakness and was involved in a three-horse bumping incident a few strides out of the gate in the Belmont, nearly threw jockey John Velazquez while falling back to last place and rallied for sixth.
A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with a slab fracture.
Animal Kingdom was pointed toward the Dubai World Cup this year, but again had to be shut down because of injury.
He’s steadily worked his way back into form, training on the turf at Fair Hill in Maryland.
“This is something I mentioned to Barry over the summer that I thought, if the horse is doing well, it would be a realistic goal,” Motion said. “At this time of year, for a horse of his quality, there aren’t a huge amount of opportunities.
“That doesn’t necessarily justify running him in the Breeders’ Cup, but I just feel that he’s that caliber horse. I said to Barry I think he can be ready in time.”
Motion said Rafael Bejarano will pick up the mount on Animal Kingdom, since his regular rider, John Velazquez, is committed to Wise Dan.
Animal Kingdom has just eight lifetime starts, but he has won on conventional dirt, synthetic and turf, at a variety of distances.
Likewise, Wise Dan has never raced at Santa Anita, but he has won at six different tracks on every imaginable surface, including a yielding turf at Saratoga Race Course in the Fourstardave.
“I think Animal Kingdom can do anything, I really do,” Motion said. “It’s a credit to him that he was able to win doing a mile and a quarter on dirt, because ultimately the turf is probably his preferred surface.
“A really good horse can run on anything. Wise Dan’s shown that, and my horse has shown that, not to the same extent as him, obviously. I worked him on the grass or the synthetic leading up to the Derby, so I’ve always thought that was his natural surface.”
Motion and Team Valor aren’t ruling out getting him back on dirt, with an eye on running in the Dubai World Cup next year.
The layoff heading into the Breeders’ Cup against a top-notch field is a concern, but they have a fit, mature horse who has filled out as a 4-year-old to the point that Motion said Animal Kingdom is one of the heaviest horses he’s trained.
“He’s an exceptional horse, and that’s why we’re doing something that’s a little out of the ordinary,” he said. “Sometimes, you’re better off having a fresh horse. We were in a different scenario in the spring when we were looking to go to Dubai, and he hadn’t run since the Belmont. We needed to get him to the racetrack in that situation.
“He’s a very fast horse and he’s a very big horse, so, logically speaking, I think that’s why we’ve had trouble keeping him sound. Mentally and physically, he’s really developed. He’s trained really well. I think he’s training better this fall than he did in the spring, to be honest.”
‘BOBBY’ WORKS TODAY
Starlight Racing’s Shanghai Bobby will get his final Breeders’ Cup prep this morning at Belmont Park.
He’ll be among the big group of Todd Pletcher-trained horses flying to Santa Anita on Tuesday, although that travel plan may change in light of Hurricane Sandy.
The undefeated 2-year-old colt is coming off a blistering 47.48 for four furlongs at Belmont Park on Sunday.
It was the third-fastest work of 109 at that distance that day.
“He’s pretty tight,” said Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, the Starlight co-managing partner with Jack Wolf. “I don’t think he has to do too much more. I wouldn’t be surprised if Todd works him five furlongs, just from a distance standpoint.”
Shanghai Bobby, undefeated in four starts after winning the Grade I Champagne at Belmont, likely will be the favorite or a close second choice for the Juvenile when the post-position draw takes place at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
“We’re getting every indication from Todd that he’s really on his game,” Lucarelli said.
“My dad broke him in Ocala, at the Payton Training Center, and he felt like he was a top-level colt from early on,” Pletcher said. “He’s just been a real joy to train.”
Pletcher has 10 horses pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup, and will have to make a decision with Kauai Katie, who is cross-entered in the Juvenile Sprint (against males) and the Juvenile Fillies.
A two-time Grade II winner of the Adirondack at Saratoga and the Matron at Belmont, Kauai Katie is one of two 2-year-old fillies trained by Pletcher and owned by Stonestreet Stables. Like Kauai Katie, Dreaming of Julia is undefeated in three starts, after winning the Grade I one-mile Frizette a week after Kauai Katie won the six-furlong Matron.
“There’s a couple of factors involved, and a lot of it is the fact that Stonestreet owns both,” Pletcher said. “And both are very talented fillies that we’ve been fortunate enough that they’re undefeated at this point, so there’s some hesitation to run the two fillies against each other.
“We’ll work both this weekend, and then I’ll have a conversation with the connections, and we’ll look at the pros and cons and assess the fields. It’s certainly tempting, based on the way that Kauai Katie rated last time, to try and stretch her out.”
MORE BREEDERS’ CUP
Point of Entry, who has won five straight, the last three of which were Grade I’s, will work on the Belmont turf on Sunday for trainer Shug McGaughey and travel to California on Monday in preparation for the Turf.
He’s won his last three, including the Man ’o War at Belmont, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga and the Turf Classic on a yielding Belmont turf, by a combined 91⁄4 lengths.
McGaughey said Point of Entry may actually take to what is usually a very firm Santa Anita turf.
“He really liked the turf training course ta Saratoga,” McGaughey said. “They would let us work him on the rail there, and he just loved going around that quick turf course. You know how hard it was up there this summer. So I’ve been looking forward to getting him on a good, firm turf course.”
Like Pletcher with his juvenile fillies, trainer Bill Mott will have to make a decision with Royal Delta, who is cross-entered in the Classic and the Ladies’ Classic, which she won last year to clinch the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award.
Mott said he’s leaning toward running in the Ladies’ Classic again.
One aspect making the decision easier is that Royal Delta would have to be supplemented for $150,000 to run in the Classic.
Mott has another three pre-entered in the big race, Flat Out, Ron the Greek and To Honor and Serve.
“The horses that I’ve got in the Classic really have three completely different styles altogether,” Mott said. “We’ve got a horse like To Honor and Serve that has good early speed, and he’s always going to be up on the pace or in a very close stalking position. Flat Out seems to be a mid-pack sort of a stalker, and then Ron the Greek usually comes from nine miles out of it. I don’t think the running styles should interfere with one another.”
The connections for Wise Dan, trainer Charles Lopresti and owner Morton Fink, made it known well before pre-entries came out that they would run in the Mile on the turf instead of the Classic on Santa Anita’s conventional dirt.
“Mr. Fink and I talked about it, and we know that he’s very, very good on turf right now,” Lopresti said. “I think it would be easier to come out there and run on the turf rather than come and run on the dirt, only because I wouldn’t have enough time to prepare him to run on the dirt, especially against a horse like Game On Dude who’s so dominant on that track.”
Lopresti said Wise Dan would run next year as a 6-year-old and may target a race in Dubai on the Tapeta synthetic track at Meydan.
“He’s very smart, and he’s very kind,” Lopresti said. “He ships very well. Any place that I’ve been with him, he settles in the stall in a day’s time, and he’s just a pleasure to be around. You train horses all your life, and this is a horse of a dream right now. I don’t want to sound real cocky, but I couldn’t have him any better coming into the race.”
Wise Dan has won six of his last seven, all graded stakes, and would make a strong case for Horse of the Year if he wins the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
His only loss in that span was a second by a head to Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster.
ALGORITHMS TO CLAIBORNE
Algorithms, the undefeated 3-year-old owned by Starlight Racing, was sold to one of the most influential breeding operations in North America, Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., as a stallion prospect this week.
“We’re very happy to be with a real old-school, good, high-quality farm in Claiborne,” Lucarelli said. “He’ll get a lot of good, high-quality mares, so this gives him the best shot to be successful as a stallion.”
Terms of the sale were private.
Algorithms, one of the top Kentucky Derby contenders this spring before suffering a broken splint, joins the likes of Pulpit, War Front, Arch, Blame, Eddington, First Samurai, Flatter, Horse Greeley, Parading and Trappe Shot as a Claiborne stallion.
He’ll stand for a stud fee of $7,5000 next year.
“We thought it would be somewhere between that and 10,000,” Lucarelli said. “I’m sure they went for the low end so he would get a good book his first season, and if he hits, then it’ll go up, like War Front did. It’s a first-class operation of old-time breeders. They made War Front, basically.”
War Front stands for $80,000 and Pulpit for $50,000. Arch stands for $40,000 and sired Blame, who beat Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Algorithms is a son of Bernardini out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode.
He won all three career starts, the last of which was the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, but he was scratched the morning of the Fountain of Youth, for which he was the favorite, when a broken splint bone was discovered.
With most of the racing world’s attention on next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup, Laurel Park has a card chockful of stakes today, highlighted by the Frank J DeFrancis Memorial Dash at six furlongs.
The field includes 5-2 morning-line favorite Sean Avery, who has been lightly raced since winning the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga last year.
He was fifth in the Vosburgh last time out.
Among those he’ll face are 7-2 second choice Pacific Ocean, who won the James Marvin at Saratoga, and Royal Currier, winner of the Mr. Prospector and Teddy Drone at Monmouth Park this summer. He was third to Sean Avery in the Affiliate.
Ramon Dominguez, who won the first Grade I of his career in the DeFrancis Dash on A Huevo in 2003, will ride Pacific Ocean for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.
The card also includes the six-furlong Laurel Dash on the turf, where Maryland hero Ben’s Cat is the even-money favorite.
Ben’s Cat has won 18 of 27 career starts, most recently the Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap at Laurel and the Grade III Turf Monster at Parx.
Beginning Monday, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s hours will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon-4 p.m. on Sunday.
The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
AROUND THE TRACKS
For the second time in the last month, Delaware Park cancelled its Wednesday card because of a lack of entries. . . .
Her Majesty the Queen of England had a horse run at Belmont Park on Friday.
Dawn Glory finished third in the seventh race as the 2-1 second choice.