DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Animal Kingdom is by Leroidesanimaux, a horse bred in Brazil, and he was produced by a German-bred mare named Dalicia. Late last year, an Australian stud farm acquired controlling rights to the horse, and Animal Kingdom will retire to stallion duty there sometime in the next year. Animal Kingdom’s breeder and now co-owner, Team Valor, has “International” appended to its name, and indeed, in many ways, Animal Kingdom is an international horse. But Animal Kingdom made his first 10 starts in the United States. In 2011, he won the grand prize of American racing, the Kentucky Derby. And after three years of World Cup flops at Meydan Race Course, and another night of forgettable performances earlier this night, Americans could feel free to claim Animal Kingdom as their own as he brilliantly won the $10 million World Cup here late Saturday.
Animal Kingdom became the first American-based horse to break into the top three in World Cups contested on the synthetic Tapeta surface at Meydan. And at the top of the long homestretch here, Animal Kingdom broke the hearts of pace-setting Royal Delta and Godolphin’s main World Cup hope, Hunter’s Light. Racing second behind Royal Delta’s leisurely pace down the backstretch and around the tight final turn, Animal Kingdom, with a massive heaving of his heavily muscled frame, changed leads in perfect rhythm with jockey Joel Rosario as he straightened away. In a couple strides he had made a clear lead, and before coming to the furlong marker, the World Cup was over. Red Cadeaux rallied belatedly after breaking free of traffic and cut into Animal Kingdom’s margin in deep stretch, but the diminishing two-length margin was a mirage: This was Animal Kingdom’s night.
“He’s just an extraordinary animal,” said winning trainer Graham Motion. “It reminded me of the Derby turning for home.”
Animal Kingdom became the second Kentucky Derby winner to win the World Cup, Silver Charm having pulled off the double in 1997 and 1998. But Silver Charm’s pair of wins came on dirt, with the World Cup still held at Nad Al Sheba. Animal Kingdom won the Derby on dirt, the World Cup on synthetic, and finished a fast-closing, troubled second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf last fall.
“He’s a very unique, unusual horse. He’s good enough to win any race,” said Barry Irwin, the CEO of Team Valor, which forms partnerships like the one that bred Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom began his career on Polytrack at Arlington, when he was trained by Wayne Catalano. He moved into Motion’s barn after making two starts at 2, emerging belatedly on the Triple Crown scene after winning the Spiral Stakes on Polytrack at Turfway, and upsetting the Derby at 20-1. Second in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom finished sixth in the Belmont, came out of the race with an injured leg, and didn’t race again until February 2012, when he won a turf allowance race at Gulfstream Park. That start was intended as a World Cup prep, but Animal Kingdom fractured his pelvis and didn’t race again until the BC Mile.
This year, he finished second in his World Cup prep, the Feb. 9 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, with new rider Joel Rosario making an unusually early move that even Motion – in his polite, diplomatic fashion – called into question. But Rosario, Motion said after the World Cup, had been informally signed on for a two-race deal; Motion and Irwin decided to stick with him in the World Cup, a race in which Rosario never had ridden.
“I hate to see a jockey get yanked off a horse for one odd race,” said Motion. “I think Animal Kingdom has become a more difficult horse to ride as he’s gotten older. I think he just surprised Joel. It was a good learning experience for him.”
Motion, an English expatriate, was also making his World Cup debut. He slyly dodged the media crush here all week, but seemed quietly confident as Animal Kingdom went through final preparations for his biggest race since the Derby.
“I’ve never seen him this fit,” Irwin said.
Motion and Rosario huddled after watching an extremely slow edition of the UAE Derby early on the World Cup card, a race in which the winner came from the front end. Motion had said all week he didn’t want Animal Kingdom falling too far behind early in the race, and now he told Rosario to feel free to use any early speed Animal Kingdom wanted to show. Away decently from post 11, Animal Kingdom was four wide running past the stands for the first time, but dropped in to the three path by the first turn, and had made his way to second on the backstretch, with Royal Delta setting the pace. The mare, jockey Mike Smith said, never felt comfortable on Meydan’s synthetic surface: When Animal Kingdom took off, she had no response, but neither did anyone. He was timed in 2:03.21 for the about 1 1/4 miles and paid $7.40 in the United States.
Red Cadeaux, who has specialized in longer races, ran very well for second, and third-place Planteur duplicated his finish from one year ago, finishing third. He was followed by Side Glance, African Story, Meandre, Hunter’s Light, Treasure Beach, Kassiano, Royal Delta, Dullahan, and Capponi, who was distanced. Dullahan, jockey Gary Stevens, came up totally empty when asked for run about three furlongs out.
Arrowfield Stud is now the controlling owner of Animal Kingdom, and it will be up to their principal, John Messara, to decide what Animal Kingdom does next. The tentative plan, though, is to ship to England on Saturday for a start at the Royal Ascot meet, either in the Queen Anne Stakes or the Prince of Wales’s. No American horse has won either of those races. But then Animal Kingdom is proving to be no regular American horse.