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Animal Kingdom Wins Kentucky Derby 137
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Hail to the “surviving” nineteen three year old thoroughbred colts and jockeys that emerged from underneath the twin spires at Churchill Downs for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.  One hundred sixty thousand racing fanatics to hat divas joined in on the great tradition of singing “My Old Kentucky Home” as these beautiful horses paraded past the grandstand in all their glory.  The significance of this great American race was displayed on the rider’s faces as they absorbed this moment passing by the crowds:  Veteran Derby winner, Calvin Borel, wiped away tears of, no doubt, pride and great appreciation, maiden Derby rider, Rosie Napravnik, showing obvious pure joy with a contagious smile that reached all the way to my living room.

Animal Kingdom and Shackelford impressed me most during the post parade by looking well-conditioned, seeming physically more mature than the rest of the field.  I felt confident the rider change for Animal Kingdom was a positive decision on Graham Motion’s part.  Robby Albarado, the colt’s regular rider, was removed from the mount at the last moment because of facial injuries.  As a result of Uncle Mo scratching on Friday morning, jockey John Velazquez was hired to take Albarado’s place in the saddle of Animal Kingdom.  Understanding Albarado’s disappointment, I agree with Graham Motion’s decision. 

All nineteen horses loaded smoothly into the gates.  Animal Kingdom broke slowly from the sixteenth gate, but managed to find a comfortable spot tucked behind the front two-thirds of the field.  In a position to get a lot of dirt in his face, he received it well, despite the unwarranted concerns by commentators regarding his ability to handle kickback, even after handling what looked like a wall of dirt in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (which he won). 

Having horses to his right and left, John Velazquez guided the colt forward through the pack, eventually claiming a lane of his own on the outside coming around the final turn.  Animal Kingdom ran with confidence as he moved down the homestretch, passing leaders, Nehro and Shackelford, in the last hundred yards to win by 2 ¼ lengths. What was most notable was how strong he remained following the wire, even when Velazquez stood in the irons.  This is a testament to Graham Motion and his team for the spot-on training and management of this colt.  If the connections decide to run him in the Belmont Stakes, it looks as if distance will not be an issue for Animal Kingdom.      

Animal Kingdom finishing with a competitive time of 2:02.04, proving that he is a legitimate Triple Crown contender.  Animal Kingdom personally validated my assessment of him going off at high odds of 20-1 which was clearly inappropriate.  In my ‘Bunny’s Morning Line’ post, I listed him at 6-1 and as one of my top selections.    

I felt personally proud of the horseracing industry this weekend.  Watching the impeccable sportsmanship exhibited by John Velazquez following his victory was a true teachable moment.  His humble, gracious demeanor towards Robby Albarado’s disappointing situation was a class act.  His previous losses of Kentucky Derby mounts, favorite Eskendereya and this year’s Uncle Mo, made for a particularly sweet victory for the jockey.

In contrast to the first Kentucky Derby I watched in 2008, which sported Big Brown on steroids, trained by Rick Dutrow, who is now permanently suspended from racing in Kentucky; to the highly respected trainer Graham Motion, who scratched one of this year’s favorites in order to protect the horse’s well-being, and producing another solid contender with Animal Kingdom. As a teenager who loves this sport, I hope that trainers like Graham Motion will be the trend of the future.  If so, I look forward to being a devoted fan and a lifetime of enjoying thoroughbred horseracing.    

 

If you would like to know more about Animal Kingdom, read

Part Ten of Bunny's Derby Darlings:  Animal Kingdom at:

 http://bitsnbunny.blogspot.com/2011/05/bunnys-derby-darlings-animal-kingdom.html

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