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Animal Kingdom a Favorite in Britain Ahead of Royal Ascot

June 11, 2013

By Alex Brown
The New York Times

Animal Kingdom is fast becoming a favorite among the British betting public. He is a favorite in the ante-post betting markets for the Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) on the opening day at Royal Ascot, being offered at 4-5 and even money in places. Those are short odds for a foreign invader, in a race that is more than a week away. Britons love their ante-post wagering ahead of big events.

Animal Kingdom’s favoritism is a result of bullish work reports that have been coming steadily over the last few weeks from his base at David Lanigan’s Lambourn yard, as well as his credentials. Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby and most recently won the Dubai World Cup. He was also an unlucky second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile off an eight-month layoff.

Animal Kingdom will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at the Royal Ascot since the Triple Crown winner Omaha, who raced in the two-and-a-half mile Ascot Gold Cup in 1936. Omaha lost that race to a filly named Quashed, the winner of the Epsom Oaks the year before.

In last year’s Queen Anne Stakes, Frankel destroyed the field, drawing away by 11 lengths. That performance was considered the best race-course performance of any horse by Timeform. It is a great stage for the globetrotting Animal Kingdom.

The strength of Animal Kingdom’s credentials and his well being also seem to be weakening his potential opposition. Cityscape has recently defected; he finished third in the Queen Anne in 2011 to Canford Cliffs and Goldikova. In his most recent start, he was last in the Lockinge Stakes (Group 1) and has not recovered well enough to compete. On Saturday morning, Animal Kingdom’s chief rival Farrh, who was 3-1 in the ante-post markets, was discovered to be lame and was scratched.

I sat down with Animal Kingdom’s trainer, Graham Motion, two days before he was set to fly to England to oversee the final preparations of his charge for their historic attempt at a Royal Ascot victory.

On the British press and public reception:

“It is like the publicity leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Not a day has gone by, in the last week or two that I have not done an interview with somebody, certainly everyday when I am over in England. There is lots of interest. I think because he is a Kentucky Derby winner there is interest. For the British public, racing is part of their national pastime. They really admire a challenge, that’s what makes it so exciting.”

The decision to race at Royal Ascot:

“Barry Irwin and I discussed this idea a long time ago, then other partners became involved. A lot depended on how he ran in Dubai, but shortly after the World Cup we decided to go as long as he was doing well.”

The challenge ahead:

“I think the Breeders’ Cup Mile challenge is comparable to this challenge, when Animal Kingdom came into the race off an eight-month layoff. This race is a big undertaking. There are many differences going to Ascot that are unfamiliar to the horse. The complete unknowns, the training environment to which he has adapted, the straight mile he will face at Ascot, as well as the undulating turf of the course. I would not be able to do this with another horse; I think it is a credit to this horse that we can even attempt to do this. This is a much bigger challenge than the Dubai World Cup. Dubai’s challenge was the travel, but this is travel and a very different scenario for the horse.”

Animal Kingdom is fast becoming a favorite among the British betting public. He is a favorite in the ante-post betting markets for the Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1) on the opening day at Royal Ascot, being offered at 4-5 and even money in places. Those are short odds for a foreign invader, in a race that is more than a week away. Britons love their ante-post wagering ahead of big events.

Animal Kingdom’s favoritism is a result of bullish work reports that have been coming steadily over the last few weeks from his base at David Lanigan’s Lambourn yard, as well as his credentials. Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby and most recently won the Dubai World Cup. He was also an unlucky second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile off an eight-month layoff.

Animal Kingdom will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at the Royal Ascot since the Triple Crown winner Omaha, who raced in the two-and-a-half mile Ascot Gold Cup in 1936. Omaha lost that race to a filly named Quashed, the winner of the Epsom Oaks the year before.

In last year’s Queen Anne Stakes, Frankel destroyed the field, drawing away by 11 lengths. That performance was considered the best race-course performance of any horse by Timeform. It is a great stage for the globetrotting Animal Kingdom.

The strength of Animal Kingdom’s credentials and his well being also seem to be weakening his potential opposition. Cityscape has recently defected; he finished third in the Queen Anne in 2011 to Canford Cliffs and Goldikova. In his most recent start, he was last in the Lockinge Stakes (Group 1) and has not recovered well enough to compete. On Saturday morning, Animal Kingdom’s chief rival Farrh, who was 3-1 in the ante-post markets, was discovered to be lame and was scratched.

The race and the jockey:

“I walked the course with Johnny Velazquez the other day. The reason he is riding is that he has the experience on the course. That’s why I wanted him on the horse. It’s very different running the straight mile, but I think it is the lesser of two evils. With the mile and a quarter race, the Prince of Wales, he would have had to go right-handed, something he has not experienced.”

Final training heading to the race:

“He’s had two serious works now; his last two, the work at Ascot two weeks ago and the work on Wednesday. He will now have a regular gallop routine. All the major work is done. He will breeze one more time, on Wednesday, in hand, very comfortably. We are at a stage now where you just wish the race was next week. This is the same training pattern that I used for his last two or three starts. The bulk of it is done. We now just have to wait and get him to the race in the best shape possible.”

Personally:

“It is a tremendous moment. I doubt I will ever do something like this again. I am just very fortunate to be a part of it. We are very fortunate that they decided to keep Animal Kingdom in training to do this.”

On racing Animal Kingdom again:

“There is a small window of opportunity he could run again, but it is very unlikely. He is entered in the Eclipse, at Sandown, only as a back-up to the Royal Ascot race, in case something went wrong leading up to Ascot.”