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Animal Kingdom Wins First Start Since His Injury at the Belmont Stakes

By Steve Davidowitz | After an eight month absence since he broke a small bone in his left rear leg in the Belmont Stakes, ANIMAL KINGDOM successfully returned to the races Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The 1-1/16 mile allowance race was designed by owner Barry Irwin and trainer Graham Motion as a prelude to Animal Kingdom’s next planned start—in the 1-1/4 mile, $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, March 31.

A son of 2005 turf champion LEROIDESANIMAUX, Animal Kingdom used the GP turf course as a natural forum for an impressive victory over moderate class allowance horses to become the first Kentucky Derby winner in 14 years to win his first attempt as a 4-year-old. It also is notable that the same horse--Silver Charm—also was the last Derby winner to come back as a 4-year-old to win the World Cup.

The way the race was run on Saturday served every conceivable purpose, if in fact, the colt actually can use only a single prep race in modest company as a springboard to run at full power against a field of world class horses at a classic distance—on the Tapeta synthetic surface in use at the $1 billion Meydan racecourse.

"The race (at Gulfstream on Saturday) set up perfectly for us," Motion said. “It certainly would have been disappointing if he lost. ”But this was the best thing for us. He needed a race and he was put in the back of the pack by Johnny (Velazquez) and went wide around the final turn before he showed how fit he is."

Racing with protective front bandages over the firm turf course, Animal Kingdom moved smartly from last to third halfway through the backstretch then relentlessly moved to the leaders before taking full command entering the stretch.

While second place finisher MONUMENT HILL tried to make a race of it in the stretch, Animal Kingdom lengthened his stride noticeably and easily held off that rival by two lengths completing the 1-1/16 miles with a good clocking, 1:41.72.

"He’s come a long way since October," Motion said. "Nothing was more heartbreaking than to see (Animal Kingdom) stuck in his stall a week after the Belmont. He went from being the fittest horse in the country to not being able to get out of his stall. That was tough. To see him today, back to himself, obviously I'm elated."
 
Last fall, while Animal Kingdom was being patiently handled, owner Barry Irwin said:  “We think he’s made of championship stock. We’re certainly hopeful that he will come back stronger than ever.”   

Indeed. On Saturday in a relatively meaningless allowance race at Gulfstream Park, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner looked more mature, stronger and ready to move on towards bigger and richer competition. As a 4-year-old with such versatility and talent his connections can proceed as planned to the Dubai World Cup, keeping in mind their longer range goal of bringing him to Santa Anita Park in November for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
 
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