Animal Kingdom in the 2012 BC: It’s Not the ‘Bounce’ to Fear

Recently it was announced that Animal Kingdom will make his first start after nearly 9 months on the shelf in the Breeder’s Cup Turf Mile at Santa Anita on November 3rd.

When asked why no prep race at Keeneland prior to going straight from the farm at Fair Hill to a BC effort, owner Barry Irwin responded: “Because he is not ready and he is apt to run too big first time back, so he likely would regress second time out.”

Trainer Graham Motion: “Coming off the layoff, the Mile just seems very logical for him, he certainly has the turn of foot to handle it. The timing is right for his schedule coming back, and the caliber of horse that he is, you’re not going to look for a nice, easy spot. It’s a totally different situation than last winter when we ran him in the Gulfstream allowance to get ready for the Dubai World Cup. Going a mile, we feel he should be very fit for this race, and he deserves the opportunity.”

(above two quotes courtesy of Paulick Report: http://www.paulickreport.com/news/thoroughbred-racing/animal-kingdom-will-make-next-start-in-bc-mile/)

Many of you will remember his last start (off of a 7 month layoff), back in February at a Gulfstream allowance race over a mile and a sixteenth on the turf, was meant as a prep for the following month’s Dubai World Cup, a 10F effort over the Tapeta surface. Three weeks after this winning effort, timed in 1:41.72 over a firm turf loop, Animal Kingdom was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the ilium, or in other words – a cracked pelvis. Surgery was not required and he was given a month of stall rest at Fair Hill before resuming training over the summer.

A few questions come to mind:

Why after a brilliant 2011 spring on dirt did Animal Kingdom head to turf?
Of course the breeding is there, but now he’s headed for 8F with a $2 million purse instead of the BC Classic over 10F for $5 million. He sure was fit for 10F in last May at CD, with no such layoff by the way.

Why no prep race this time?
In February he came off a long layoff to run at GP in an 8F+ effort that averaged 12.65 seconds per furlong, now he’ll make a HUGE step up to the BC Turf Mile, which was won last year by Court Vision in 1:37.05, or 12.13 seconds per furlong.

Why the sudden worry of a ‘bounce’?
He’s never bounced before, quite the opposite actually with a fast-closing 2nd in the Preakness off of short rest and a Derby triumph.

Why no changes in the training breezes this time around?
Ah, the good old weekly 4/5F works – a US staple. In Australia turfers are often worked fast 2-3x per week – so how’s the breakdown rate compare to ours over turf?

Per 1,000 starters, US horses breakdown 1.74 times vs the Australian rate of just 0.6 – a nearly 300% difference. And they are faster too, see Black Caviar – without running on Lasix or Bute.

Remember, Animal Kingdom also came out of his 2011 Belmont effort injured as well. That’s when the move to turf was initiated with an eye to a big future paycheck over Tapeta in Dubai. So, we have a twice-injured Animal Kingdom going into a big race next month off a longer layoff that preceded his last effort at Gulfstream, which ended in injury – even though that race was run over a half second per furlong slower than what is to be expected November 2nd.

Being ‘fit’ to race doesn’t simply mean you can make it around the track and get to the wire first, it also means that no trauma is found over the next few weeks after such an effort.

-If you win a race by 10 lengths and emerge injured, you were not fit for the task.
-If you win a race by 10 lengths and come back 5 weeks later to lose by a ton, you were not fit for the task either, as the horse was comprised psychologically, physiologically, or both.

The connections have rightfully decided they only have one more in the tank for this brilliant, soon-to-be stallion – and are shooting for the moon – hoping talent alone will save the day.

Conclusions:
-The initial move to turf was made because soundness was a concern after the fractured cannon bone found following the 2011 Belmont.
-The decision to turn back in distance was made because soundness was still an issue after the fractured pelvis found after the Feb. 2012 allowance race at GP.
-No prep race this time around because soundness is still at the forefront after two relatively minor skeletal injuries following his last two races.
-At Santa Anita this winter Animal Kingdom will run, for him, a mediocre effort – and be retired (‘nothing else to accomplish’ will be the official reason…) OR win heroically and emerge injured for the THIRD time in 18 months, also leading to the nearest stud farm.

But if he loses he won’t be alone as I fully expect the West Coast contingent to dominate under-prepared East Coasters over the SA home dirt strip, much like they have done throughout the 2012 season:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/2012-haskell-round-4-of-east-coast-vs-west-coast-conditioning/

P.S. I am suddenly reminded of Toby’s Corner pulling up lame before the Derby last year – after a 6F breeze at Fair Hill in preparation for the big race:

https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/tobys-corner-off-the-trail-didnt-we-see-this-coming/

Much to Mr. Motion’s credit this problem was uncovered in the privacy of the farm training environment, will he similarly work Animal Kingdom 6F in the next 7-14 days?

EDIT 10/13/12:

‘This week, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner’s exercise rider was fitted with a helmet cam as Animal Kingdom turned in an impressive-looking six-furlong work over the turf at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.’

To re-confirm: I am not claiming the connections are racing an unsound horse, as the confidence to breeze 6F shows here – but that they are skipping the prep route due to the good chance one race is all AK has in him at this stage.

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on October 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Does Animal Kingdom look like a world beater during these weekly 4F/:48 works from a rolling start over the turf at Fair Hill?

    I am sure he does, he better look fantastic as he’s undoubtedly a world class horse – but those 4 – 12sec furlongs following an easy canter for about a half mile has very little in common with what he’ll face in the BC Turf Mile.

    Now if he goes 6F in 1:12 next week and emerges unscathed, unlike Toby’s Corner, he could very well be set up for a monster effort in his career finale.

  2. I truly appreciate the q/a commentary regarding Animal Kingdoms comeback..I have been a big fan if him throughout his (relatively) short racing career. However, I haven’t found Mr. Motion to put his horses in spots they don’t belong very often and if he thinks he’s good enough/fit enough to return in the BC race then he might be worth a wager, albeit there may be the persuasion on B.Irwins part to just try and increase his value as a potential stallion..nonetheless, nice to see a horse/champion like himself given another shot to do what he loves-Race and Win..he could have been retired to stud after his initial injury like so many recent colts..I don’t think he needs a BC win to make him a viable stallion-just look at I’ll have Another as an example, surely there were offers similar to his for Animal Kingdom at that point in his career..I commend His connections for bringing him back to the races where he belongs until his duty truly calls..

  3. I’m not sure he ‘belongs’ racing when his last 2 efforts, one off of a similar layoff to this one, have resulted in skeletal fractures. Perhaps this is one who truly ‘belongs’ on the stud farm at this stage of his career.

  4. Nice post Bill. Animal Kingdom should be barred from this race, period. The rules for entry should be such that this sort of animal exploitation and also exploitation of the sport would never be permitted. We all recognize the risks of this race to the horse. You documented it very well. I am glad someone did!

  5. Just my opinion, if the race poses some degree of exploitation leading way to horse’s harm the horse must be pulled out.

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  1. Pingback: Turf Miler Conditioning: AU vs USA – Pierro vs Animal Kingdom « ThoroEdge Equine Performance

  2. Pingback: BC2012: Take West Coasters on Dirt, Euros on Turf « ThoroEdge Equine Performance

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