Animal Kingdom's jockey & trainer to visit Magic Millions

Champion American jockey Johnny Velazquez and leading US trainer Graham Motion had starring roles in Animal Kingdom’s sensational 2011 Kentucky Derby victory. Now they’re coming to Australia to see his first yearlings at next month’s Magic Millions Gold Coast Sale, and Velazquez will be available for rides on Jeep Magic Millions Gold Coast Raceday, Saturday 9 January.

Puerto Rico-born Velazquez and English native Motion have both forged remarkable careers in American racing.

Velazquez, pictured left, affectionately known as “Johnny V”, is the Leading All-Time US Money-winning rider, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, and a member of the US Racing Hall of Fame.  In 2015 alone he has ridden almost 200 winners for earnings of $US20 million including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last Saturday aboard Tonalist.

Motion, pictured right, was nurtured in English racing as the son of bloodstock agent Michael and assistant trainer Jo, but the family moved in 1980 to the United States where Motion is based at Herringswell Stables in Maryland. 

Individually, Velazquez and Motion have been associated with many outstanding performers, including US Horse of the Year Wise Dan, Champions Speightstown, Lemon Drop Kid & Main Sequence, Breeders’ Cup winners Better Talk Now, Da Hoss & Shared Account and recent Grade 1 winner Photo Call.

Paradoxically, it took a horse with a pedigree more European than American to elevate them both to the special level of fame reserved for history-making Kentucky Derby winners.  

Animal Kingdom was the first horse in 137 years to win the Derby at his first start on dirt – in fact, Motion confirmed a start only after the charismatic colt worked brilliantly at Churchill Downs a week before the race.  Velazquez, left without a ride when Uncle Mo went amiss, piloted Animal Kingdom to a spectacular 2.75-length victory, posting the fastest last half-mile since Secretariat 38 years earlier.

Injury derailed Animal Kingdom’s 4YO career until a daring first-up tilt at the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile G1 on turf at Santa Anita where he flew home from an impossible position to run second to Wise Dan in track record time of 1:31.78. That performance clinched both Arrowfield Stud’s purchase of a majority interest in Animal Kingdom and a challenge for the $US10 million Dubai World Cup G1, on the artificial tapeta surface.  At Meydan, Animal Kingdom simply dominated his eleven top-class rivals – collectively the winners of 24 Group 1 races in eight countries.

After that victory, Animal Kingdom was rated the best entire on the World Thoroughbred Rankings, with a figure of 126.
Retired to stud in 2013, Animal Kingdom is represented in the 2016 Magic Millions Gold Coast catalogue by eight yearlings, seven of them in the Arrowfield draft. They include a daughter of Gr2 winner Cat By The Tale, a grandson of champion filly Alinghi, and a half-sister to Wild Rain, one of five stakeswinners from the Stud’s 2013 Magic Millions consignment.

As well as attending the Sale and the Magic Millions raceday on Saturday 9 January, Motion and Velazquez will visit Arrowfield and will be available for media interviews from Wednesday 6 January 2016.

Animal Kingdom's Derby still exceptional

None of the four Kentucky Derby winners since Animal Kingdom’s imperious 2011 victory have matched either the actual distance he ran, or his exceptional time for the final quarter-mile.

This is revealed by the Trakus data compiled at Churchill Downs for each of the last five Derbys, won by Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, Orb, California Chrome and American Pharaoh.

Animal Kingdom covered 6,760 feet in the Derby, after settling off the rail during the race and swinging wide to claim the lead in the straight. That’s 160 feet or about 50 metres further than the official distance of 10 furlongs (2000m).

Nonetheless, Animal Kingdom ran a fast overall time of 2.02.04 with his last quarter-mile (about 400 metres) in 23.84 seconds  – 2.68 seconds faster than the Zayat family’s outstanding colt. The next-fastest last quarter-mile in the past five years was the 25.80 seconds posted by I’ll Have Another in 2012, and he covered 80 feet less during the race than Animal Kingdom had done a year earlier.

The Churchill Downs track was rated fast in 2011, 2012, 2014 & 2015, and only Orb in 2013 had to deal with a surface rated “sloppy”.

Eighteen months after the Derby Animal Kingdom produced another extraordinary finish when he returned from a long break after injury to run second in the Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup Mile G1 on turf, won by Wise Dan in the near world record time of 1:31.78.

In March 2013 his championship acceleration took Animal Kingdom to a famous victory in the Dubai World Cup G1, held on Meydan’s tapeta surface. This time, however, he produced sensational mid-race sectionals, clocking 23.20 for the 1600-1200m (the single fastest split in the whole race) and 23.60  from 1200-800m.

Furthermore, Animal Kingdom travelled 17 metres further than runner-up Red Cadeaux,. Adjusting the final winning margin of two lengths for this extra distance suggests that Animal Kingdom was more than 8 lengths better at Meydan than Red Cadeaux.

The subsequent Group 1 form of the horses behind Animal Kingdom in Dubai has firmly franked his performance.

Red Cadeaux has since run magnificent seconds to Protectionist in the 2013 VRC Melbourne Cup G1 and behind Criterion in the 2015 ATC Queen Elizabeth S. G1. Planteur (3rd) was second in the Longchamp Prix d’Ispahan at his next start, while Side Glance (4th) was subsequently third in the 2013 Arlington Million and won the VRC L.K.S. MacKinnon Stakes.

African Story (5th) returned to Meydan to win the 2014 Dubai World Cup; Meandre (6th) won the 2013 Cologne Preis von Europa; Hunter’s Light (7th) won the 2015 Meydan Jebel Hatta S.; and by the end of 2013 champion US mare Royal Delta (10th) had boosted her stellar record with her fifth & sixth Grade 1 successes and her third Eclipse Award.

As Trakus analyst Pat Cummings wrote afterwards, “Let there be no doubt that Animal Kingdom’s race in the Dubai World Cup was phenomenal.”