Thursday, June 13, 2013

Can Kingdom Conquer?

by Kelsey Riley

On June 18, Animal Kingdom (Leoroidesanimaux {Brz}) will write the next chapter of his illustrious career when he lines up for the G1 Queen Anne S. at Royal Ascot. The plucky chestnut has come a long way since upsetting the 2011 GI Kentucky Derby as a lightly-raced and relatively unknown colt, and his story has been one of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Forced to overcome two injuries and lengthy setbacks since wearing the roses, Animal Kingdom came full circle and rewarded the belief and patience of his connections when storming to an authoritative victory in the G1 Dubai World Cup Mar. 30.
    That victory in itself put Animal Kingdom in an elite league, making him just the second Kentucky Derby winner--in addition to Silver Charm--to complete the Derby/Dubai double. Now, the Team Valor, Arrowfield Stud and Darley-owned colt will attempt to stand on his own as the only racehorse in history to win the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, and also take one of Royal Ascot’s (the world’s most longstanding and prestigious race meeting) coveted prizes. Next Tuesday, Animal Kingdom will become the first Kentucky Derby winner since 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha (second in the 2 1/2 mile Gold Cup in 1936) to line up at Royal Ascot. He will be the first World Cup winner since Electrocutionist in 2006 (second in the G1 Prince of Wales’s) to compete at the Royal Meeting, and seeks to become just the second World Cup winner to win at Royal Ascot, joining the late great Dubai Millennium, who closed out his career with a victory in the Prince of Wales’s.  
Animal Kingdom

What Animal Kingdom will attempt to accomplish is truly unprecedented, which makes it somewhat difficult to assess what he is up against. The early betting suggests the 5-year-old towers over this field--he was yesterday installed the 8-11 favorite--and with the withdrawal of G1 Lockinge S. scorer Farhh (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) last week, this year’s race appears to be coming up a bit weaker than previous editions. It cannot be forgotten, however, that Ascot--with its undulations and rising finish--is one of the world’s most challenging racecourses, and under these extreme conditions, the opposition cannot be underestimated.
   In comparison to your classic American oval, Ascot Racecourse is about as unusual as they come. Refurbished in 1996, its main body is triangular shaped, and includes different courses for flat and national hunt racing. Flat racing is contested on the Swinley course, with the Queen Anne run over the straight course. The mile straight includes two significant dips before the uphill climb to the finish,

which begins two furlongs out. Adapting to this type of course can be the most challenging task invaders face. Last year, after Australian superstar Black Caviar 
The Ascot straight
scraped home in the G1 Diamond Jubilee, her connections admitted they had likely underestimated the difficulty of the course, and just days ago, South African trainer Mike de Kock withdrew his G2 Godolphin Mile winner Soft Falling Rain from consideration from the Royal Meeting, citing that the 3-year-old had failed to adapt to these conditions since arriving in England from Dubai. Therefore, a mile over the Swinley course would be more challenging than a mile over an American course, which was the key reason given by Animal Kingdom’s connections for selecting the Queen Anne as opposed to the 1 1/4 mile Prince of Wales’s for their stable star. While it is impossible to guess what will materialize on race day, the good news is that, unlike Soft Falling Rain, all reports are that Animal Kingdom has thrived in his work since arriving in England, and he pleased all onlookers with a strong gallop over the Ascot strip May 29. The climb to the finish tends to favor horses who can race handily, and Animal Kingdom has shown that ability in a number of his races, including the World Cup.  
   The Queen Anne has proven year in and year out to be one of the most competitive and prestigious mile turf races on the global calendar, and regularly features some of the world’s best horses. Last year, Frankel turned the race into a procession, dominating the talented Excelebration by 11 lengths in what many consider to be the undefeated champion’s greatest victory. In 2011 it was five-time Group 1 winner and 
Elusive Kate
Ascot specialist Canford Cliffs who got up to defeat defending champion Goldikova. With the withdrawal of Group 1 winners Farhh and Cityscape, this year’s edition undoubtedly lacks the flair of those recent renewals, but there could be some value to
be had, and the 4-year-old filly Elusive Kate (Elusive Quality) looks an attractive proposition at 12-1. Teruya Yoshida’s filly has been the picture of consistency throughout her career, her only off the board efforts coming in her career debut (fourth in 2011 behind eventual multiple stakes winner Falls of Lora) and in the final start of her well-traveled juvenile campaign, when she finished 8th, beaten 5 ¼ lengths, behind Stephanie’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy) in the GII Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Elusive Kate is a two-time Group 1 winner, both at a mile, and she has not been seen since finishing third behind Excelebration and Cityscape in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. over this track and trip last year. Next to Animal Kingdom, fitness could be her greatest opposition. Elusive Kate found herself not quite up to the task in her seasonal debut off a similar layoff last year, when she finished second to Giofra--withdrawn from consideration for this race yesterday--in the G1 Falmouth S. at Newmarket. Her lone run over the course has it upsides, however, and she could represent value in a race where the favorite will simply be too short to bet. Yoshida’s Racing Manager Patrick Barbe yesterday expressed confidence in the filly and noted that she is 80% likely to run, with Yoshida traveling from Japan for the race. Gregorian (Ire) (Clodovil {Ire}), around 20-1, put in a very strong race over this course in last year’s G1 St. James’s Palace, and the 4-year-old appears to be coming into his best form now. He comes into this off a victory in the G3 Diomed S. at Epsom Downs May 31, and could pick up a piece of the pie.   
   While Animal Kingdom towers over this field on ratings, the Queen Anne will be an entirely new experience for him, and the breadth of the challenge is not to be taken lightly. Regardless of the outcome, it is a great story for racing, and, win or lose for Animal Kingdom, viewers tuning in from around the world will be treated to history in the making.

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