Why I Want Animal Kingdom to Fail in the Preakness

Above is the young Derby winner as a new foal in Paris, KY at Denali Stud. I hate to root against an adorable foal who grew into a colt possessing less than fashionable breeding these days and enjoying a well-respected trainer, but I will do so on Saturday, and for good reason.

The sport is called horse racing, not horse breeding, or horse selling, or horse training. I want to see action on the track with all of the big names fighting it out against each other.

It’s well documented that Animal Kingdom overcame a few Derby ‘rules’ at CD last weekend: he had 6 weeks off from his last prep at Turfway and he was the first to win over dirt without a prior race over the surface.

Similarly, he is very lightly raced with just 4 starts and his connections are so proud of the fact that he is ‘the freshest horse to ever attempt a Triple Crown campaign’. I hate to break the news to them: but a ‘fresh’ horse by their definition has NEVER won a Triple Crown (see below).

I hate this trend, it sucks for all of us fans of competition. Sure it worked out well for Animal Kingdom, but how did these other lightly raced colts fare last Saturday?

Also with 4 lifetime starts: Dialed In and Midnight Interlude. Up the track both of them.

How about those who ran their first race on dirt?
Brilliant Speed, Derby Kitten, Twinspired, Master of Hounds. Hounds ran a respectable 5th, but I’m not sure the others even got a call.

On being fresh heading to the Preakness and Belmont?

“Recent” Triple Crown winners and lifetime starts prior to Derby:

12 starts
Seattle Slew: 6 starts, but routinely breezed miles in training between the classics, meanwhile Animal Kingdom has only jogged in his first week at Fair Hill after the Derby.
Secretariat: 12 starts
Citation: 14 starts
Assault: 11 starts
Read more about Assault’s training here: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/i-blame-trainers-for-lack-of-triple-crown-winners/

With the average starts per year for an American thoroughbred dropping from 12 to 6, and the average starts per career of a Derby starter following the same rate of decline – Animal Kingdom winning another leg of the TC will further exacerbate that trend.

This is a textbook case of the exception being used to invalidate the rule, or the tail wagging the dog, er… horse. 50+ colts who previously raced only on synthetics attempted to win the Derby and none succeeded prior to Animal Kingdom – yet now it will be more commonplace as it’s newly classified as a ‘myth’ rather than a ‘rule’.

Here’s hoping Animal Kingdom bounces like a basketball at PIM after his effort at CD – surely Flashpoint will set a quicker pace than 1:14 for him to close into? I believe that Derby was the slowest paced in nearly 70 years, wow.

Never has a colt so lightly raced won the 3 TC races in 5 weeks, yet if A.K succeeds, it too will remain the new norm, to the detriment of racing fans everywhere.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on May 17, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Burton DeWitt

    I’m gonna root for AK because I’m not old enough to have seen a TC champion, but you are right. So You Think was running for the third time in ten days when he ran in Australia’s top race last year. It was the distance, not fitness, that got to him in the final 200 meters.

    That said, Twinspired, Derby Kitten, and Brilliant Speed had all run on dirt before.

    • I didn’t count Brilliant Speed since his 2 dirt outings were his first races and it wasnt pretty. I still show the other two with racing experience only over turf at dirt tracks…

  2. You are a mess. You praise Frankel in one post and then bash Animal Kingdom the next. How many starts has Frankel had? You bash the training of Toby’s Corner in one post and then praise the european style of training of Animal Kingdom the next. According to you, Comma To The Top was the proper way to train a horse to prevent injury. You seem to data mine to fit everything into your idealism.

    • Animal Kingdom, while with a European raised trainer, was certainly not trained in that manner, this week was his first ever at Fair Hill. I was simply trying to capitalize on his win to draw attention to Mr. Motion and his off track facility.

      I praised Frankel for keeping his 2yo form while Uncle Mo failed. Euros seem to have better luck at this than we do, with the notable exception of Street Sense.

      Toby’s Corner was spent after the Wood, and I correctly claimed he would not prosper in the Derby.
      3 different subjects completely.

      Of course I pull out instances that support my opinions, every blogger does – I’m no scientist. Comma to the Top got hurt, that sucks, but that’s racing. He still lives to fight another day, unlike the retired Archarcharch.

      What the hell am I supposed to do – point out every instance where I was wrong?
      That’s for readers like yourself to do.
      And I do appreciate the comments.

    • Wait, you called me a mess? Have you been talking to my wife?

  3. Just to correct the impression you left that the KD winner has been jogging for the past 8 days…from today’s DRF:

    “Since shipping from Churchill, starting with an easy jog in his first morning at Fair Hill on May 11, Animal Kingdom has gradually eased into longer, stronger gallops under exercise rider David Nava. With assistant Dave Rock escorting them aboard a stable pony, the routine consists of a long walk to the training track from the barn, followed by a jog of a half-mile or so, followed by about 1 3/4 miles of galloping, then the long walk back home.

    By the end of the Tuesday gallop, Animal Kingdom was going quite aggressively. “He was nearly ‘two-minute-licking’ out there,” noted Irwin. “He’ll do the same thing every morning through Friday. ”

    For the record, AK galloped an agressive 2 miles today.

    In case you haven’t noticed, the days of Secretariat and Seattle Slew are long gone and the style of running andtraining are gone as well. One reason, although not the only one, is because of the lighter substance of the KD contenders, the breeding for fashion and more speed over speed that burns so many fragile youngsters out along the road to the TC. Most of these 3 YOs couldn’t hold up under the regimines of old. Slew, in fact, was a special case, and would have been any time in the past 50 years.

    Ironically, the horse you’re rooting against, if successful in American Classics has a chance (only a chance) to put some of that long missing stamina and substance back into the American TB.

    It looks like Animal Kingdon is a special horse – he is certainly impressive among this year’s crop – versatile, talnted and just coming into his own. Anyone else who tries the same template to the KD as the connections did with AK are unlikely to find success. Unlike AK, most synthetic and turf runners are NOT equally effective on dirt. Most lightly raced horses are too green to succeed in the KD stampede (see Midnight Interlude). However, we’ll ever see a return to the top 3 YOs having 12 -14 starts before the TC races. Fewer starts and longer time between races is a separate, well established trend that AK will do little to affect.

    As for the KD myths – some of them really defy common sense, such as the proscription against geldings, when so few have ever entered the gate for the run for the roses. Especially in a year such as this, with no dominant 3 YO in the race, the KD was wide open – it pays to look at the horses on an individual basis. (Have you ever considered that AK is a dirt horse who had not yet performed on dirt?) You have to look at the big picture and each horse as an individual as it comes into the race, especially the seek before.

    In fact, Motion and Irwin did not have “Derby Fever”, and thought long and hard before they entered AK. The horse put himself in the KD, with a good work over dirt and by training strongly just prior.

    On Preakness day I will be rooting for AK: because of the ease with which he won the KD (despite the slow early pace); because of his wonderful, unfashionable, stamina heavy pedigree (which I absolutely love; and because of his classy trainer, Graham Motion, who trains without drugs, who doesn’t pursue the 3YO classics unless he’s got an legitimate contender and who puts the well being of his horse first. Now THERE’s three trends I WOULD like to see emulated by others on the TC trail.

    • Duly noted.

      I had prepared the post a few days earlier and each day someone at Fair Hill told me they only witnessed him jogging. I stand corrected. If you are looking for a pedigree discussion, I am not capable of holding up my end. I want horses to be conditioned like the old timers practiced. I, and many others, don’t buy into the fact that there is so much more speed nowadays, KD finishing times are no faster, although splits may very well be.

      Oh, I’ve noticed those days of Slew and Secretariat are long gone, its the invasion of quarter horse cowboys and their lax training regimens that have rendered those days obsolete. It’s all driven by money nowadays rather than sport, and that is not good for the horse. That is my passion and my chosen mission – to reinstitute those ways and means for the individuals who can most benefit – and that is done by using science and technology to enhance horsemanship.

      I disagree that zero 3yo colts can handle the workload of a Slew. They never get the chance to do so. It’s precisely the Uncle Mos or Eskendereyas that can grow stronger through longer works and gallops – otherwise their inherent talent will be their undoing as they run so fast so early as to ‘fry’ their physiologies.

      Now can every single colt on the Derby trail handle that amount of work? Of course not.

      I want Animal Kingdom to fail so that next year we don’t have 13 starters in the field that we have only seen race 4 times in their lives, up from the 3 this year.

    • Thank you for the picture of AK as a foal, beautiful. Is good to note your disapproval on this horse winning the Preakness. Have watched horse racing all my life and of course the sport is not what it once was……everyone thinks they need performance enhanced “go juice” ! Animal Kingdom will win come Saturday.

      • I heard the same ‘we’ll win’ drivel from the Uncle Mo crowd back in March.
        I see Animal Kingdom owner Barry Irwin here at my gym in Versailles, KY quite often – let’s just say it’s difficult for me to cheer for him as well.

  4. I agree with one major point that you made: I want to see horse racing–specifically some really good matchups of the top horses each year. We were fortunate to have Zenyatta around for the past two Breeders Cups, for example. But one of the factors that has really hurt horse racing the past 10 to 20 years is the premature retirement of horses. A male horse, if sound, doesn’t reach his physical peak until 4 or 5 years old. If a horse has a very serious injury, by all means they should be retired. But I would have loved to have seen a Ghostzapper/Smarty Jones BC Classic. or one with Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex the next year.

    As far as AK goes on Saturday, I’ll only be rooting against him because I don’t think 5-2, or whatever his odds will be, offers any value. I have immense respect for his trainer, but the horse’s speed figure wasn’t particularly strong, he had an easy trip in the Derby and while he may still be improving, there’s a reason why 14 different horses won all the different preps this year.

  5. Barry Roberts

    I am afraid the real issue is not how many starts he has had, as compared to what preparation behind the scenes for fitness plus his natural ability is. If the horses Vo2Max/kg is better than the others his V200 also Better than the others , he has been freshened enough to have his muscles fill with Glycogen , then only a better horse on the day will beat him. Forget how many starts he has had, look at the European patterns of starts before big occasions.. I do agree that these days with heart Monitors and better training preparations being practiced and that as long as the horse does not have any Physical injuries, they should be able to race far more frquently during a racing preparation. I think with horses not being able to give personal feedback, trainers are afraid all the time the horse may have some underlying injury that has not been detecteted. This is what is stopping them from having them compete so often. In Humans, provided the training preparations have been done correctly, most runners run their best races at the third – 6th serious race of the season.

  6. Barry, I know you are from overseas – here in the US there isn’t much going on behind the scenes and we can precisely know how much (or little) training he has had, because the fast works are published and nearly every trainer practices the same with regards to slower gallops.

    In his lifetime, Animal Kingdom has only breezed 6F once, never further. And that was the week prior to the Derby.

    He has also never breezed more than once per week.

    He always gets 14 days of no speedwork after a race.

    He has never galloped further than 2 miles in his life, typically ranging in pace from 2:00 on up to 2:30 these days.

    It’s likely he will not breeze fast between either the Derby, Preakness, or should be make it, the Belmont. If he does, look for an easy half mile on one occasion.

    He has never worked on an uphill gallop, as until this week he had been stabled trackside either at KEE or PMM where there are no such facilities.

    As you stated, without any objective indices of performance (HR and or blood lactate), the trainer is afraid to hurt him and therefore proceeds with an abundance of caution.

  7. Calvin L. Carter

    Mr. Pressey,

    Animal Kingdom has been by Kentucky Derby favorite since I wrote about him on my blog last December:



    “Ironically, the horse you’re rooting against, if successful in American Classics has a chance (only a chance) to put some of that long missing stamina and substance back into the American TB.”

    I agree with that statement 100 percent.

    • I do remember your pick Mr. Carter, I also have met Kerry Thomas and love what he is all about. Everyone has their angle, you and others side with pedigree, Kerry sides with emotional confirmation, I decide to side with conditioning – which most people these days deem insignificant. Lucky me.

      If he goes on to win the Preakness and/or Belmont, AND that means global US changes in breeding for racing stamina, which would allow us to condition horses differently, I would be one happy guy. I just don’t hold that much faith in those dominoes falling in precisely the right manner.

      I would rather see AK punished by coming up short due to an overly conservative racing schedule and training regimen. If our TC was spread out over 5 months instead of 5 weeks – different story. So called “freshness” may certainly be the key to winning the first jewel of the TC, and sometimes the second, but so far it has not been the key to the Triple Crown ‘Kingdom’.

  8. This article is TOTALLY ABSURD! Graham Motion and Barry Irwin play the game by the rules. I suppose it would be better if a horse by a drug-dealing trainer won the Triple Crown? These are facts:

    Animal Kingdom has foreign parents because Irwin didn’t want a crack foal with American parents.

    Graham Motion HAS ABSOLUTELY NO DRUG VIOLATIONS, you know, when Pletcher or Baffert or Assmussen get them, they get slapped on the wrists.

    Yes horses start about 6 times a year. In South America and Austrailia they start 20-40 times a year. Yes, they race once a week in some instances.

    I guess you are rooting for the BAD GUYS!

    • Graham Motion uses the same raceday drugs as the other guys, he just uses them more judiciously. I have no bone to pick with Mr. Motion, he is a gentleman and a wonderful horseman. I have praised him over this blog repeatedly for his lack of drug violations. There are no bad guys to root for, I just want to see our 3yo stars on the track more than 4 times before the Derby, that’s all. If AK wins, that will become more of the norm.

      I have clients in South America, I know how often they race. Same for Australia.

      Australia has a breakdown rate 4x lower than the US on synthetics. Australian superstars often run 2x in 10 days. If anyone in the Preakness this weekend was that active, THAT is who I would pull for.

  9. If any of you don’t believe me about the South American horses, get a copy of the Racing Form’s South American simulcasts that Pimlico and Calder do. When you see horses getting up to 40 starts a year, your jaw will drop.

  10. On Kentucky Derby Day, I have the Racing Form’s South American simulcasts. May 7, 2011, Race 15 from Calder which was simulcast from Chilie (i will exclude horses that were maiden:

    Number of starts in 2010:

    1. Grosso Moro 22 starts
    3. Bella Postulante 29 starts
    4. El Dividendo 31 starts
    5. Amalie 46 starts
    6. Botello 37 starts
    7. Menandro 45 starts
    9. Capaz de Entusiamar 38 starts
    14. Melodia Africana 49 starts

    In fact #5 Amalie is a 6 year old mare with 113 lifetime starts. #9 Capaz de Entusiasmar is a 6 year old mare with 113 lifetime starts. And get this: #14 Melodia Africana is an 8 year old mare with 247 lifetime starts!

    No drugs allowed in South America.

    • Mark in SC – I believe drugs are allowed in Chile, as one of my owners had this to say last year:

      “The Chilean trainer mentioned, XXXXXX has been caught 4 times medicating Clenbuterol, he is the worth of all trainers with drugs. Plus, we don’t have tough horses, we have horses that can take Lasix and Bute per gallons to be able to run.

      Authorities are trying to prohibit use of Bute and Lasix for 2 year old and all trainers are against it.”

  11. bpressy, thanks for the correction. But then why do SA horses start sometimes over 40 times?

  12. Barry Roberts

    No Drugs in Australia and New Zealand. Our horses would probably only average 8 – 10 starts a year – at most. I am not saying it could not or should not be more. I have a 4 year old mare 16 starts in 3 seasons as an example. Trouble is in this argument we may have superior genes getting in the way of poor enviromentals!
    Its as Warren Buffett says about Companies. A good horse can make a poor trainer look good. A bad horse can make even the best trainer look Poor! Sad but true. Australian trainers have started using far more Applied exercise physiology than they used too. Trainers like Jim Bolger and others in the UK the same. I am afraid compared to Human Exercise Physiology the amount of applied equine physiology being used is still very little. Limiting Factors include the desire and will to use it and enough Feild testing – simple methods available for use to ensure the horse is adapting to the exercise stress and is recovering between each training session. Unfortunately horses can not tell us how they are feeling. I admire Brian for allowing us to debate with himself all these issues. I think it will add to progress, which has been stifled for too long with the ” Old Ways ” of doing things.

  13. My goodness, you guys own horses and you don’t admit anything about the abundance of drugs on the backstretch? I used to be a harness horse groom and I remember the vet giving my docile gelding a shot that tuned him into a wanta-be stud. He tried to bite me and acted like the vet reattached his long gone equiptment. And this was 20 years ago. Can you explain the numerous drug violations that top trainers have? It seems the more a trainer has, the higher he is ranked in the trainer standings. Owners, get your heads out of the sand and start caring about your horses and this sport altogether!

  14. Barry Roberts

    Get into drugs here Back Stretch front stretch and Stables or any where else and you are gone like the wind!

    Maybe USA is behind the rest of the world?!!! That should start some comment and debate 🙂

  15. Gentlemen, the Horse Race Game in the USA is almost to the point of extinction. Many tracks offer races of 5 or 6 horses that fans don’t want to bet on. The money extracted from the pari-mutuel pools is 20%. Big Brown, the horse who almost won the triple crown a few years back was administered steroids before the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But he wasn’t given the steroids before the Belmont. Now don’t you think the public had a right to know? There was $100 million bet on Big Brown. When this came out, how many bettors did we lose?

  16. I’m totally rooting for AK!! I didn’t have him in the Derby, I had Nehro winning it, pretty close! But I want him to win because I think he’ll have an excellent shot in the Belmont as he’s bred to run all day and I was born in ’80, so I haven’t even been alive for a TC winner. And if he were to win the TC, I don’t think it will change the way the horses lead up to the TC very much and if it does and we see more TC winners in the years to come, then I say go for it! This sport needs that boost considering we haven’t had a TC winner in, what, 33 years. GO AK!!!

  1. Pingback: What Prevails Saturday: ‘Freshness’ or Aggressive Conditioning? | ThoroEdge Equine Performance

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