Distance, Turf, and the Triple Crown

I think it’s safe to say Animal Kingdom shook things up a little at Churchill Downs. And when it comes to horse racing predictions for the rest of 2011 (up to and beyond the Triple Crown) Thoroughbred enthusiasts really might have to pause and step back.

Animal Kingdom at Fair Hill. via @alexbrownracing

After all, a horse who trains on a synthetic track at Fair Hill, whose sire, Leroidesanimaux, was the 2006 Champion Turf Male, whose dam was a turf winner and never once ran on dirt, really shouldn’t have been the obvious choice to win the Derby! “Animal Kingdom was bred to run all day long, so the Derby result shouldn’t come as a surprise,” or so saith The Daily Racing Form. But a lot of people were surprised.

Interestingly, DRF writer Frank Mitchell writes in his blog, Bloodstock in the Bluegrass, that the Kentucky Derby “is usually run at a ridiculously fast pace that burns up many of the horses involved in the early part of the race to the unexpected benefit of some deep closers.” Whereas this Derby was run at historically slow fractions, despite being on a fast track.

So. We have a horse who is bred for turf, who has never run on dirt, closing hard to win an arguably slow Kentucky Derby. Is this the stuff of Triple Crown dreams?

Wouldn’t it be nice if he was? Animal Kingdom brings with him an antidote to seemingly all of America’s racing woes. He is bred for distance, not six furlongs. He is trained by Graham Motion, a trainer with a spotless drug-free record. The partnership who owns him is led by his breeder, Barry Irwin, who is a critic of the breed-to-sell business model who many credit with the demise of the American Thoroughbred. Perhaps best of all, Animal Kingdom spends most of his time living like a horse, with turn-out and fresh air, at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.

Animal Kingdom’s Derby win felt, to me anyway, like a win for everyone who loves Thoroughbreds. Oh, and his Triple Crown chances? Well, he’s a stone-cold closer bred for distance. So, not bad at all.

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