Saturday, May 7, 2011

Animal Kingdom unlikely winner of Kentucky Derby‎

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The winner of the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby makes absolutely no sense at all. That's quite all right. The prep season leading up to the Triple Crown was a road filled with shocking upset after shocking upset from New York to California.

When the first horse crossed the finish line in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs early Saturday night, it was a result that left many in the record Derby Day crowd of 164,858 scratching their heads and ordering one more Mint Julep.

The winner was the lightly raced Animal Kingdom, who lit up the tote board to the tune of $43.80 for a $2 bet. The colt, who went off at odds of 20-1, had plenty of things going against him coming into the 114-mile Kentucky Derby.

He had never raced on dirt in his life. He also became the first horse since 1956 to win the Derby off a six-week layoff and the first horse since 1918 to win America's biggest race with so few starts.

Oh, and he had his fifth rider in as many races. John Velazquez won his first Derby after being named to ride the colt only on Friday. He replaced Robby Albarado, who broke his nose and had facial lacerations after being thrown from his mount in the post parade of the third race here on Wednesday.

Really, you would not have expected the winner of the Kentucky Derby to be Animal Kingdom. But it was he who overtook Nehro in deep stretch and powered to a 23/4-length win. Nehro, who went off at 8-1, was a neck ahead of Mucho Macho Man, who was three-quarters of a length in front of pacesetter Shackleford.

Besides the $43.80 to win, Animal Kingdom returned $19.60 to place and $13 to show. Nehro paid $8 and $6.40 and Mucho Macho Man returned $7.

"Once I pulled him out by the eighth pole, I knew I was gone," Velazquez said.

Dialed In, the Nick Zito-trained 5-1 favorite, was never a factor and finished eighth.

Animal Kingdom certainly had shown ability as a racehorse, but the big question was would he handle the dirt. Trainer Graham Motion and Barry Irwin, the chief executive officer of Team Valor International, which owns the colt, apparently had nothing to worry about.

Animal Kingdom was, in a way, the second string horse for Motion's barn. The top colt in the stable, Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner, was declared out of the Derby earlier in the week with a lame left hind leg.

"Somebody said, `Are you surprised to win with a second-tier horse' and I said, `I'm not sure we would categorize him as a second-tier horse," said Motion, who won the Derby with his third starter. "He's been an extraordinary horse to train in the morning. It really has been an extraordinary week." This Derby lost star power when last year's top 2-year-old, Uncle Mo, was scratched from the race on Friday with an internal ailment. Velazquez, who was 0-for-12 in the Derby before Saturday, would have ridden Uncle Mo if he had run.

Dialed In was supposed to be the horse to beat, but he didn't get a very quick pace to run at.

"He was dead last, and they never came back to him," Zito said about the pace scenario. "They went 1:13 (for six furlongs) and never came back."

The final time of the race was 2:02.04.

Animal Kingdom can now become the first sport's first Triple Crown winner since 1978 (Affirmed) if he can win the Preakness on May 21 in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 11.

One would think that Animal Kingdom would go to the second leg, but nothing was confirmed Saturday night.

"We'll talk about the Preakness, let's put it that way," Irwin said. "We'll see what we can come up with."

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