FAIR HILL, Md. – While Graham Motion was back at his Fair Hill training center base Friday morning overseeing his large stable, his mind rarely wanders far from England, where his prized pupil Animal Kingdom is preparing for what is expected to be his final race at the Royal Ascot meeting in June.
What has yet to be determined is whether Animal Kingdom will run in the Queen Anne Stakes on June 18 – the first race of the meeting and the same race Frankel won last year – or the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on June 19. The Queen Anne is a mile, while the Prince of Wales’s is run at 1 1/4 miles.
While Animal Kingdom has won the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup, both at 1 1/4 miles, Motion believes the Queen Anne is a very intriguing option.
“I think that mile and a quarter could conceivably be a lot more grueling than our mile and a quarter, depending on the going and everything,” Motion said Friday at cloudy Fair Hill. “I think the mile is an interesting option. It’s a demanding mile. It’s up and down hill. He’s shown he can do a mile, and I think it could be a good fit for him.”
Animal Kingdom showed his prowess at a mile when he ran a troubled second to Wise Dan, North America’s Horse of the Year, in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Motion also brought up the possibility of reuniting Animal Kingdom with jockey John Velazquez, who rode him to victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Motion said that Velazquez has experience riding at Royal Ascot, whereas Joel Rosario, who was aboard for the Dubai World Cup victory on March 30, does not.
“Barry,” Motion said, referring to Team Valor International president Barry Irwin, “said it best when he said it’s almost unfair to Joel to throw him in there on that course. It’s not like he could ride a race there.” The Queen Anne, he said, “is the first race at the meet if we ran there.”
“The fact that Johnny knows the horse, he’s ridden the horse, and he’s ridden at Ascot – it makes it fairly logical,” Motion added. “But it’s still something we’re talking about.”
Motion returned to the United States on Wednesday after spending three days in England, where Animal Kingdom is based at David Lanigan’s Kingsdown Stables, about 45 minutes from Ascot.
“I think he’s doing great,” Motion said. “He lost a little bit of condition, which he probably still has to put on. He’s getting there, and I think he looks very well. He’s very settled, like he’s been there for a long time.”
Motion plans to return to England in a couple of weeks to walk the turf course at Royal Ascot and watch Animal Kingdom have a workout.