Can long shot Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978?
After overcoming a string of "unlikelies" to win Saturday's 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, the spotlight is on Animal Kingdom as he prepares for the next leg of his quest to become the 12th horse to sweep the Run for the Roses, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
Animal Kingdom, making his first start on a dirt track, swept around the leaders in the final furlong of the Churchill Downs stretch and won by 2 3/4 surprising lengths.
As many as four Kentucky Derby contestants may head to Baltimore for the May 21 Preakness. Animal Kingdom is on his way, trainer Graham Motion said Sunday morning, although his owner was being cautious. And the trainers of Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford and Dialed In also are planning for Pimlico. Nehro is a maybe.
Nehro had looked like a winner at the top of the stretch but couldn't close the deal and wound up second, a neck in front of Mucho Macho Man. Shackleford led much of the way only to finish fourth and Irish-trained Master of Hounds closed sharply on the inside in the final furlong to wind up fifth, a nose in front of Santiva.
Among the others, favorite Dialed In was eighth, Pants On Fire with jockey Rosie Napravnik finished ninth and Archarcharch got home 15th with an injury that will require surgery.
Barry Irwin, chief executive officer of Team Valor International, which owns Animal Kingdom, jockey John Velazquez and trainer H. Graham Motion agreed the secret to the 21-1 upset win was a clean trip.
"We talked about it before the race," Velazquez said, "and the whole thing we wanted to do, basically, [was] get some sort of position and stay out of trouble. That was our thing. Hopefully we get a clean trip without having so much trouble and even we save a little bit of ground but not so much where we get into trouble."
Motion added: "When he drew the 16 hole, we talked last night and we talked in the paddock. I just felt that having a clean trip was the main objective and that was how it worked out."
Napravnik, only 23 years old, rode confidently and well in her effort to become the first female jockey to win a Kentucky Derby. Kathy Ritvo saddled Mucho Macho Man and Kathleen O'Connell sent out Watch Me Go to a next-to-last placing in their efforts to become the first female to train a winner of the Run for the Roses.
But at the end, it was all about Animal Kingdom. After three starts on artificial surfaces and one on the turf, he was an unknown quantity on the Churchill Downs dirt track, although he did work very well over the surface early in Derby week. And he is from a mixed bag of foreign bloodlines rather than the typical Bluegrass blueblood aristocracy. His sire, Leroidesanimaux, was bred in Brazil and sired by Candy Stripes. His dam, Dalicia, is a German-bred by the German sire Acatenango.
And even Animal Kingdom's rider was an unlikely circumstance. Robby Albarado originally was listed as the jockey but, after Albarado was injured earlier in the week, Team Valor and Motion ousted him from the saddle and picked up Velazquez. Velazquez was available only because his scheduled mount, Uncle Mo, was scratched Friday.
While his trainer said Animal Kingdom is a go for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness and it would be highly unusual for a healthy Derby winner not to chase the second jewel in the Triple Crown, Irwin expressed caution.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to do it, but I want to talk about it," Irwin said Sunday morning outside Animal Kingdom's barn. "I'm a careful guy, so let's see how he's doing. I think if you've got a horse that's amazing, you can go for the Preakness. But your regular, average Derby winner has a real tough time coming back.
"The Belmont is the kind of race that this horse is bred to win, let's face it."
Motion told NBC-TV there's no question in his mind. "We certainly plan to be there," he said.
There's a remote chance Velazquez could have a choice to make if Uncle Mo recovers from whatever's ailing him in time to get to the Preakness. Would he stick with the Derby winner or jump back on Uncle Mo?
"I think I'm going to cross that bridge when we get there," he said. "No, seriously, I think this horse, the way it runs today, it would be a very hard decision for me to get off this horse to go to another one."
Especially if the other one is in questionable health at best and has had virtually no training schedule.
As usual, the Kentucky Derby eclipsed some other great racing. Around the circuits:
Plum Pretty roared out of New Mexico and down the Churchill Downs stretch to win Friday's $1 million, Grade I Kentucky Oaks by a neck.
St. John's River rallied stoutly from a pace-stalking trip and just missed catching the winner and Zazu was a narrow third. The favorite, Joyful Victory, was fourth with an even run.
Plum Pretty, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.50 with Martin Garcia up for trainer Bob Baffert. The filly prepped for this race by winning the Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico by 25 lengths. Prior to that, she had been third in two stakes races in California.
"That Sunland race is pretty tough," Baffert said with a smile in the Churchill Downs' winner's circle.
Plum Pretty started from the No. 12 gate and Garcia was able to tuck her in behind the leader on the first turn. By the top of the lane, she was well in front and had just enough to stave off the late challenge of St. John's River, with Napravnik up.
"She relaxed so good and when I asked her to go, she just took off," Garcia said.
"Everyone talks about how long this stretch is," added Napravnik, one of the sport's rising young stars. "I just wish it was one nose longer today."
Also on the Oaks undercard:
Blind Luck stumbled badly at the start of Friday's $300,000, Grade II La Troienne Stakes for fillies and mares, trailed into the turn and then had to come six-wide around the field to launch her bid. Meanwhile, old rival Unrivaled Belle was already rolling toward the lead and it was all Blind Luck could do to get by and win by a half length. All Due Respect led briefly and held on for third. Blind Luck, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pollard's Vision filly, got the 1 1/16 mile race on a fast track in 1:42.93 under Garrett Gomez. Blind Luck, winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks, finished second to Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic last fall. Gomez said of the start: "She was standing good (at the start) and then for some reason she fell to her head. But she got back up and got going. One of the positive things about it is that she wants to be back there (near the rear) anyway." Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, noting Blind Luck's four straight second-place finishes coming into the La Troienne, said, "I always thought it was circumstances that prevented her from getting another win. We never gave up on her. We gave her plenty of time to get ready this race. She came through for us big time." He said his filly likely will run next in the Vanity at Hollywood Park.
Diva Ash led all the way to a 1 1/2-length victory over late-running Sassy's Dream in the $100,000 Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Smart Sting finished third. Diva Ash, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tapit, was making just her third career start and coming off a second-place finish in an optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park for trainer Dale Romans. With Kent Desormeaux up, Diva Ash ran 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:45.93.
Victoria's Wildcat trailed the field early in the $100,000, Grade III Eight Belles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came wide around her rivals with a bold move on the turn and quickly drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Home Sweet Aspen led to mid-stretch and held second gamely in a duel with Honey Chile. The favorite, Arienza, finished a dull eighth. Victoria's Wildcat, a Kentucky-bred Bellamy Road filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.03 with Desormeaux in the irons.
First Dude got a nose in front of Regal Ransom to win Friday's $300,000, Grade III Alysheba Stakes. Equestrio, the only horse who had ever beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Dialed In, finished third. First Dude, a 4-year-old Stephen Got Even colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:42.56 with Martin Garcia up for trainer Bob Baffert. He now has two straight wins after two dull starts after moving from trainer Dale Romans' barn.
Banned raced well off the pace in the $200,000, Grade II American Turf, advanced with a quick surge outside foes at the top of the stretch and won pretty much as jockey Garrett Gomez pleased. At the wire, he was 4 1/2 lengths better than Close Ally with Air Support third. Banned, a Kentucky-bred Kitten's Joy colt, finished fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf over the same course. He finished Friday's 1 1/16 miles on "good" going in 1:42.95.
Saturday's Kentucky Derby undercard:
Get Stormy went right to the lead in the $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, set a moderate pace under Ramon Dominguez and had plenty left at the end, winning 3/4 of a length. Smart Bid ran second all the way and Doubles Partner was along late to take third. Get Stormy, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Stormy Atlantic, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.81, backing up his last-out win in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. "We think we've got him back where he was and I think he's probably a better horse than he was when he was a 4-year-old," said winning trainer Tom Bush. "Hopefully there's more ahead but these are two big races he's won this spring." Asked if Get Stormy might try again in the Breeders' Cup Mile, where he finished 11th last year, Bush said, "You've got Frankel and Goldikova and Gio Ponti. But other than that, sure."
Aikenite raced off the pace in the $300,000, Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes, came six-wide around rivals into the stretch and outran Apriority by a nose. Ibboyee finished third. Aikenite, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Yes It's True colt, ran the 7 furlongs out of the chute in 1:21.40 with John Velazquez up. Aikenite claimed his second consecutive Grade II victory having won the Commonwealth at Keeneland three weeks ago. Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said, "With the Breeders' Cup here in the fall, I think we have some options with this horse. We ran him in the Breeders' Cup [Dirt] Mile last year and we could run him there again. [The Breeders' Cup] Sprint [at six furlongs] is also possible. It might be that this distance [7 furlongs] may be his best, so we'll see which way we go." Aikenite finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last year.
Aviate rallied between horses on the turn in the $200,000, Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, then swung toward the middle of the track and ran by her rivals to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Aruna. Fantasia finished third. Aviate, a British-bred, 4-year-old Dansili filly, finished the mile over firm turf in 1:36.67 under Kent Desormeaux. It was her second U.S. start after racing in England and France. "It took her a race to get on track," winning trainer Bill Mott said, "but it looked like a good effort on her part. I don't think she likes real soft ground but ground like this didn't seem to be a factor." He said he likely will run Aviate back in the $400,000, Grade I Just a Game Stakes on Belmont Day in New York.
Sassy Image ran by pacesetting favorite Hilda's Passion in the final furlong of the $300,000, Grade I Humana Distaff and went on to win by 3 lengths. Hilda's Passion held second, 3/4 of a length better than Amen Hallelujah. Sassy Image, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Broken Vow, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.10 under Robby Albarado. She came into the race off a seventh-place finish in the Grade III Sabin at Gulfstream Park and improved her record to five wins from 12 starts. Albarado said, "To win any race today would've been great." Trainer Dale Romans said Albarado "rode her perfect. The race was quick enough up front that it set up just right for us. When he took her off the turn, she just exploded. Yes, the Breeders' Cup here in the fall is something to think about for sure."
Regally Ready pressed the pace in the $100,000, Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint, got by on the outside in the late going and won off by 1 1/4 lengths. Bridgetown led for a brief moment and held second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of defending Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint champ Chamberlain Bridge. Really Ready, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred More Than Ready gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.57 seconds with Corey Nakatani up. Trainer Steve Asmussen, looking forward to this November's Breeders' Cup, said, "He has run quite a bit recently so now we need to map out a plan that gets him back here for the fall."
Daveron surged to the lead a furlong out in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Beaugay Stakes for fillies and mares, then was all-out to hold off Gitchee Goomie and win by a neck. Bet on the Blue finished third. Daveron, a 6-year-old, German-bred daughter of Black Sam Bellamy, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:42.99 with Eddie Castro in the irons. "The pace was not really fast," winning rider Eddie Castro said. "At the three-eighths I started to ride her and she responded. She was moving well, and when the other filly came to her she didn't quit. She's a nice filly, and she's won here before."
Straight Story went right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Fort Marcy Stakes and ran on gamely, winning by a neck over Hudson Steele. Sal the Barber finished third. Straight Story, a 5-year-old, New York-bred son of Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf in 1:41.84 with Carlos Marquez Jr. up. "When the outside horse came to him, that's when he dragged me, he took me and said, 'Whoa, from here, we gotta go,'" Marquez quoted his mount. "And when he saw the other horse inside, he kept digging, digging, digging, fighting. Class showed up."
Lady On the Run was just that in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 New York Stallion Stakes Park Avenue Division for state-bred, 3-year-old fillies. After starting last of seven, the Ten Most Wanted filly came three-wide around her rivals and got clear in the lane, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over Freuds on Holiday. Good Habits was third. Jockey Michael Luzzi steered Lady On the Run over 6 1/2 furlongs of fast track in 1:17.49.
Crown of Thorns rallied late in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap to upset the odds-on favorite, Sidney's Candy, by 1 1/4 lengths. Spurrier and Honor the Deputy completed the order of finish. With Tyler Baze up for trainer Richard Mandella, Crown of Thorns completed the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.73. The winner is a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Repent. "Mr. Mandella told me to not let Sidney's Candy get away early with easy fractions," Baze said. "Just make sure he's got pressure on him. That's all I did."
Star Billing stalked the pace under Chantal Sutherland in Saturday's $100,000 Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, swept to the lead when asked and drew clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Entrustment ran best late to take second and the odds-on favorite, Cambina, came from last but too late and finished third. Star Billing, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Dynaformer, got the mile on firm turf in 1:34.52. "When I did get in the stretch she was looking and had her ears forward so I did a little screaming," Sutherland said. "But she ran really well, she's nice."
M One Rifle fired his best shot in the lane in Saturday's $70,000 Cool Frenchy Stakes, running down the odds-on favorite, Cost of Freedom, and going on to win by a half length. Bulldogger finished third. M One Rifle, a 5-year-old, California-bred One Man Army gelding, ran 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in track-record time of 55.98 seconds, with Sutherland in the irons.
Awesome Patriot led all the way to a 3/4-length victory over Uncle Sam – a red, white and blue exacta! -- in Sunday's $70,000 Alydar Stakes for 3-year-olds. Clarke Lane finished third. Awesome Patriot, a Kentucky-bred Awesome Again colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:50.52 with Rafael Bejarano riding.
Bear's Chill went quickly to the front in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Queenston Stakes for 3-year-olds, never looked back and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Say No More. Oh Canada rallied for third. Bear's Chill, an Ontario-bred Artie Schiller colt out of the Numerous mare Silver Nithi, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.91 with Emile Ramsammy aboard for trainer Reade Baker. The Queenston traditionally is a key prep for the $1 million Queen's Plate, first jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, scheduled for June 26. "That's where we want to be," said Baker. "I've always been impressed with him. He's a big, strong, tough horse. You have to worry a horse like that is going to stay sound." He said Bear's Chill likely will have his final tuneup in the Plate Trial June 5.
Stunning Stag stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Vigil Stakes, came past the leaders at mid-stretch and drew off to win by 3 lengths. Essence Hit Man, the early leader, held second with Signature Red third. The favorite, Hollywood Hit, finished fourth. Stunning Stag, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred Running Stag gelding, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.15 with Gary Olguin up.
Concealed Identity concealed his bid behind the leaders in Saturday's $50,000 Federico Tessio Stakes for 3-year-olds, tipped his hand with a bold move to the lead turning into the stretch and held off the favorite, Ruler on Ice, at the end by 2 lengths. J W Blue finished third. Concealed Identity, a Maryland-bred Smarty Jones gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.76 with Sheldon Russell in the irons. Winning trainer Eddie Gaudete said he is "certainly thinking about the Preakness but we have to see how he comes out of this one and how crowded the field is going to be."
Calder Race Course
Hear Ye Hear Ye certainly made himself heard in Saturday's $55,000 Sumter Stakes, jumping out to a substantial lead and rolling home a 5 3/4-length winner at odds of better than 10-1. Bernie the Maestro was best of the rest with Dream Maestro completing an all-audio trifecta. Hear Ye Hear Ye, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred Hear No Evil colt, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.55 with Luis Saez riding.
Double Smart parked just off the early pace in Saturday's $110,000 Jack Cole Handicap for New Mexico-breds, rallied to the lead at the quarter pole and won going away by 3 lengths. Brother Louie was second and Brother John D. finished third. Double Smart, a 5-year-old Premeditation gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:36.90 with Casey Lambert in the irons.
Comedero dueled head-to-head with Nathan's H Q in Saturday's $75,000 Vincent A. Moscarelli Memorial Stakes before edging clear in the late going to win by a half length. Billy One Life was third. Comedero, a 4-year-old, Arkansas-bred Posse gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.85 under Cliff Berry. He now has 10 wins from 14 lifetime starts.
Will Rogers Downs
Tin Top Cat rallied between horses in Saturday's $50,000 Wilma Mankiller Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares, then held through the stretch to win by a length over Tickleyourfancy. Joy's Paradise led early and finished third. Tin Top Cat, a 4-year-old, Texas-bred Supreme Cat filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.08 with Curtis Kimes up.
Okie Ride pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Clem McSpadden Memorial Route 66 Stakes, seized the lead turning for home and outran odds-on favorite My Star Runner to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Gold Coyote finished third. Okie Ride, a 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred Candy Ride gelding, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.39 under Adrian Ramos.
Catlaunch battled to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Babst/Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, then opened up under jockey Luis Gonzalez and coasted home first by 2 3/4 lengths over Allsarott. Almighty O finished third. Catlaunch, a 10-year-old Noble Cat gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.77.
Couldabenthewhisky circled the leaders four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Jim Coleman Province Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Inhisglory. Jump Up and Kissme finished third. Couldabenthewhisky, a Washington-bred Harbor the Gold gelding, ran 6 1/2 sloppy furlongs in 1:17.16 with Gallyn Mitchell up.