Spiral S. (G3) winner ANIMAL KINGDOM (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]) will be ridden by John Velazquez in Saturday's Kentucky Derby (G1). Velazquez was originally scheduled to ride Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie), but when that champion was scratched Friday morning the jockey was named to replace Robby Albarado.
Albarado was hurt Wednesday when his mount in the 3RD race threw him to the ground in the post parade and stepped on him, sustaining a broken nose and lacerations on his face that required switches. He was still expected to ride in the Kentucky Derby, but it became apparent Friday morning that Albarado wouldn’t be able to fulfill his obligations.
Velazquez, who is seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory, has also replaced Albarado aboard Bouquet Booth (Flower Alley) in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
"We decided last night that if Robby rode today, we would stick with him," said Barry Irwin, CEO of owner Team Valor International. "But if he was not able to ride today, we didn't feel comfortable riding him on Saturday. We made the decision this morning, before the betting opened, so the 'punters' would have full knowledge of what the deal was."
Animal Kingdom went to the track Friday morning and galloped 1 5/8 miles.
Trainer Graham Motion said he is happy with the colt as he approaches the Run for the Roses.
"He's doing very well and I feel very good about running him," Motion said. "I feel good about how he's doing. I'm pretty relaxed about it, to be honest."
Motion is a good example of a trainer who has seen his scenario for the Derby under go a complete overhaul since mid-March. At that point, Animal Kingdom was a maiden winner who had finished second in an allowance race on turf, and Toby's Corner (Bellamy Road) was a coming off a third-place finish in the Gotham S. (G3).
Animal Kingdom established himself as a Derby prospect with his win in the Spiral on March 26 and Toby's Corner won the Wood Memorial (G1) on April 9. Animal Kingdom turned in a nice work at Churchill Downs on April 30 that confirmed he was ready for the Derby, but Toby's Corner was found to have a problem with his left rear leg on May 2, an injury that kept him out of the race.
Motion has seen his lineup change and has had to change riders on Animal Kingdom.
"It's been a real emotional roller coaster for everybody, particularly for the guys at Fair Hill, who put so much into Toby's Corner," Motion said. "That is the nature of the game and it's what you grow used to. I certainly wouldn't have anticipated two months ago this horse running in the Derby, but I don't think that's a knock against him because I think he's a really special horse. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, he's a really good horse.
"I've kind of been through all of the ups and downs, the emotions of it. I'm kind of getting to the point where I'm putting that behind me."
The Derby will be Animal Kingdom's first race on dirt and the breeze on Saturday gave Motion confidence that he can handle the change in surfaces.
"That was a very good work," Motion said. "It's still different to go over there in the afternoon and duplicate that. It was a very good work and that has kind of kept me relaxed about the whole situation."