Animal Kingdom wins Kentucky Derby
Animal Kingdom wins Kentucky Derby

Click above to watch Animal Kingdom winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1)

(Image and Footage : Kentucky Derby)

“A Kingdom for a Horse”

I have only ever attended two Kentucky Derbies. It is part of the essential education of any budding horseman, and it is one of the fundamental reasons why Kentucky has become the racehorse breeding capital of the world. I “debuted” at what was arguably the greatest Derby of all time, the epic clash between Affirmed and Alydar, and as it happened, it was the opening stanza in what was the most memorable Triple Crown in history. That was 1978, and it took me 33 years to return, courtesy of an invitation from Team Valor’s Barry Irwin. It was prophetic (the invitation, I mean). A highly-charged 165,000 people thronged the Louisville course, part celebration of the horse, and as the chords of “Starspangled Banner” and “My Old Kentucky Home” resonated across that great plain, you knew the nation was also celebrating the vengeance of 9/11 with the death of Osama bin Laden a day or two before.

I used the word “prophetic” advisedly, as Animal Kingdom cruised home that day in the colours of our hosts to a dramatic two and three-quarter length victory over the accomplished Shackleton, to mark the summit in the many chapters of Team Valor’s history. For some years, they’ve topped the racing partnership charts of the world, yet here was one Team Valor not only owned, but they bred him, as well.

John Messara’s Arrowfield Stud in Australia has acquired a majority interest in the breeding rights to the 2011 Kentucky Derby hero and Champion 3-Year-Old Male, who will begin his stud career next September and likely shuttle to the Northern Hemisphere beginning in 2014.

The deal is subject to Animal Kingdom passing importation protocols, which involve blood work that should be finalized in the next few days.

The 20 Team Valor International partners that have reached racing’s pinnacle with the home-bred colt will maintain a significant interest in his stud career. The recent runner-up to Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Animal Kingdom is slated for the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on 9 February as a prep for the $10-million Dubai World Cup (G1) on 31 March.

After the World Cup, the son of Leroidesanimaux out of Dalicia (by Acatenango) will be flown from Dubai to England and considered for an additional start, possibly at Royal Ascot in June.

John Messara says, “Animal Kingdom excites us as a rare kind of athlete with a truly international pedigree who is able to express his class on a range of surfaces. He is already rated among the world’s elite turf milers and has the potential to become a global superstar in 2013.”

Heavens know what they paid for him. In recent times, horses like Exceed and Excel and Sebring have fetched in excess of $30million Down Under, and while Animal Kingdom will have come at something of a discount to that number in these subdued times, he will nonetheless represent a very tidy sum. Big prices for racehorses are not a revolutionary thing, though; you might recall that, according to one William Shakespeare, King Richard III made an outrageous bid at Bosworth Field in 1485, when he offered his kingdom for a horse. Fortunately, the auctioneer missed the wave of his catalogue, otherwise England may have belonged to someone else these days and there’d have been no Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth in 2012.

Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin fielded a regular stream of offers for Animal Kingdom’s stud career ever since the Kentucky Derby, in which he prevailed by 2¾ lengths as the first horse to conquer America’s great classic in his first start on dirt. He stands to be the only Derby-winning stallion prospect to race as a 5-year-old since Silver Charm, who scored in the 1997 Run for the Roses.

“Originally it was our intention to race Animal Kingdom for the entire 2013 season,” Irwin said. “However, the prospect of getting the support of John Messara’s Arrowfield Stud in the Southern Hemisphere was so meaningful, that I advised my partners to sublimate their fun and take the deal. It is critically important to get a history-making stallion master behind a new prospect and in John Messara we have that. He has developed two of the world’s most successful sires in Danehill and his son, Redoute’s Choice. No way I was going to pass up this opportunity.”

Robin Bruss of South Africa’s Northfields Bloodstock brokered the deal, just as he’d done a decade ago in bringing the Chilean champion, Hussonet, to Arrowfield.

Team Valor will form broodmare partnerships to breed to Animal Kingdom, with the plan of selling and racing his offspring around the globe.

Trained admirably by Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom is a Graded stakes winner on dirt and synthetic racetracks, and he nearly beat a Horse of the Year candidate in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf off a 259-day layoff, overcoming trouble to finish in front of the elite Europeans Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud.

Animal Kingdom also finished second in the 2011 Preakness Stakes. He has finished first or second in 8 of his 9 career starts, the lone exception coming in the Belmont Stakes when he was sandwiched after the break and nearly went down, leading to 8 months on the sidelines with an injury. He has earned $2,327,500.

Extracts from Team Valor International