Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), is on track to make his 2013 debut in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) after an easy Dec. 11 half-mile work at Palm Meadows Training Center.
The 4-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux breezed over the Palm Meadows turf in :52.61 in his first workout after being freshened following his runner-up finish in the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). His intended target, the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, is to be run Feb. 9.
"He went easy; it was around the 'dogs,' so the time is a little bit deceiving," trainer Graham Motion said. "The idea was to give him a nice, comfortable first breeze back. He's had some down time since Breeders' Cup.
"I was a lot more relaxed about it than the last time I worked him, which was right before the Breeders' Cup. It was a lot more pleasurable to watch," Motion added. "I'm glad to get him back on track and start back up with the process. He'd been on such a tight schedule for the Breeders' Cup, I wanted to give him a little bit of time to get over it."
The disappointment of Animal Kingdom's second-place finish behind Wise Dan following a very troubled trip still lingers.
"How can you not (be disappointed), when a horse has a troubled trip on that stage on that day with what we were trying to achieve?" said Motion, whose Derby winner finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind Wise Dan despite being blocked and steadied on the backstretch and blocked in traffic in deep stretch. "At the same time, you have to be awfully proud of what he did. It's a little bit of a double-edged sword. On that day, with that caliber of racing, it's so much about the trip. You can't get away with having a bad trip on a day like that."
The performance was particularly impressive considering that Team Valor's runner was coming off an eight-month layoff due to an injury to his left hind leg discovered following an allowance victory at Gulfstream Park Feb. 18. His two-length victory in that race came after an eight-month layoff due to soreness in his left hind leg.
Animal Kingdom will be stepping back into grade I company for his Gulfstream start this season and could meet head on with trainer Shug McGaughey's multiple grade I stakes-winning Point of Entry, who also encountered trouble at Santa Anita while finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
"This is a different deal to what we were trying to do last (February). We were just trying to get him back to race. Now, we're at a different point here," Motion said. "He's coming off of one of the toughest grade I races that he could run in. I'm not looking to duck anyone that's for sure."
Motion and Team Valor hope to use the Gulfstream Park Turf as a prep for the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) in late March.