Team Valor International's homebred ANIMAL KINGDOM (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]) vaulted into the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture with a smart victory in Saturday's $500,000 Spiral S. (G3) at Turfway Park, drawing clear to a 2 3/4-length decision in his stakes debut. A maiden winner two starts previously for trainer Graham Motion, the chestnut colt rated in last among 11 three-year-olds before offering a stirring turn of foot leaving the backstretch, flying past rivals on the far turn to reach contention in upper stretch. The front-running Decisive Moment (With Distinction) tried gamely to withstand the onslaught, but Animal Kingdom put away his foe in midstretch and cruised to the finish line beneath jockey Alan Garcia.

The early pace was hot in the Spiral, with 8-5 favorite Positive Response (Pomeroy) establishing splits in :23 2/5 and :46 2/5 before throwing in the towel. Decisive Moment had moved to the fore after three-quarters in 1:12 2/5, with Animal Kingdom still nearly three lengths back, but the lead was gone by the eighth pole as Animal Kingdom forged his way to a head advantage in 1:38 4/5. The winner finished 1 1/8 miles over the Polytrack in 1:52 1/5.

"My horse didn't break that well and I had a little bit of trouble around the first turn. So I decided to be patient and save ground," Garcia explained. "My horse responded very well today. I figured that if he was good enough, he would make a move and he did. I'm very excited. The long distances will be good for him. Wherever they want to go with this horse, I want to be there."

"I think it was a very impressive race today," Motion noted. "Today you can't afford to get too far out of it (on this track). All three of my horses were last down the backstretch. That makes his race all that more impressive.  We knew there would be an honest pace. I just told Alan to ride his race. We've kind of been pointing for this race for a while."

Off as the 3-1 second choice, Animal Kingdom paid $8, $4.60 and $4. The 6-1 Decisive Moment was easily second best, finishing 3 1/4 lengths clear of the late-running Twinspired (Harlan's Holiday) in third. Twinspired was dismissed at 14-1 and wound up 5 3/4 lengths better than fourth-placer Beachcombing (Lemon Drop Kid), who offered a decent rally after stumbling at the start. Next under the wire came Taptowne (Tapit), Preachintothedevil (Pulpit), Son of Posse (Posse), Positive Response, Thirtyfirststreet (Good Journey), Glint (Sharp Humor) and Rescind the Trade (Put It Back). King Congie (Badge of Silver) was scratched.

A fast-finishing second in his career bow at Arlington Park last September, Animal Kingdom captured his second career outing, an October 23 maiden special weight event at Keeneland, by a widening 3 1/4-length margin. He didn't reappear this year until March 3, closing with a rush to be a head second to the well-regarded Powhatan County (Fusaichi Pegasus) in a Gulfstream Park turf allowance, and improved his ledger to 4-2-2-0, $326,900. His $285,000 in graded earnings should ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

"We haven't had him on the dirt, but it's something (owner) Barry (Irwin of Team Valor International) and I will talk about," Motion said when asked about the Kentucky Derby. "I don't think distance is a problem. Now he's got the earnings. We know he's an impressive animal."

Animal Kingdom is the first foal out of the German Group 3 winner Dalicia (Ger) (Acatenango). The Kentucky-bred counts the two-year-old colt Thursby (Mr. Greeley) as a half-brother and hails from the same female family of many noted German stakes performers, including champion two-year-old filly Diasprina (Aspros); highweighted two-year-old filly Desidera (Shaadi); Henrel-Rennen (Ger-G2) (One Thousand Guineas) winner Diacada (Cadeaux Genereux [GB]); and stakes-winning Group 1 runner-up Dickens (Kallisto [Ger]). Dalicia is a full-sister to Darwinia, the dam of German stakes winner Daveron (Ger) (Black Sam Bellamy [Ire]), who recorded a second in the Long Island H. (G3) stateside.