Team Valor International's homebred ANIMAL KINGDOM (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]) circled wide around the turn and came powering down the center of the track to take the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) in front of a record crowd of 164,858 at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
Taking the mount on the Graham Motion trainee when named rider Robby Albarado suffered a post parade mishap last week, jockey John Velazquez settled Animal Kingdom into midpack as the field entered the backstretch. Shackleford (Forestry) led the mob through splits of :23 1/5, :48 3/5 and 1:13 2/5 while tracked by Comma to the Top (Bwana Charlie) just behind and to his outside.
As the leaders hit the turn, Velazquez kept Animal Kingdom running about three wide off the rail. The pair split horses before angling to the outside and gunning down the lane. Shackleford had already repulsed bids by both Comma to the Top and Nehro (Mineshaft) entering the stretch, but there was no stopping Animal Kingdom. The chestnut dashed straight to the wire, finishing up the 1 1/4-mile fast-track classic in 2:02.
Animal Kingdom was sent off the 11th choice in the 19-horse field, returning $43.60, $19.60 and $13 at 20-1 while keying the $329.80 exacta, $3,952.50 trifecta and $48,126 superfecta (16-19-13-14).
Nehro made an early move entering the stretch, was turned back by Shackleford, but finally overcame that one and appeared the winner. In the end, though, he was unable to withstand the rush of Animal Kingdom, finishing 2 3/4 lengths behind while paying $8.80 and $6.40 as the 8-1 third favorite.
"The little horse just ran unbelievable. I'm very proud of him," trainer Steven Asmussen said of Nehro. "Congratulations to the winner, but, for (owner) Mr. (Ahmed) Zayat and his family, I sure would've loved to have won it but I was very excited he ran second. There was way less pace than I thought there would be and thank goodness Corey (Nakatani) was smart enough to take advantage of that."
"Overall the trip was pretty darn good," said Corey Nakatani, who piloted Nehro. "We were in a predicament where I didn't think the pace scenario was as fast as what I needed to be able to get him into a high cruising speed. That's my job is to sense it and to know how fast I'm going and that's why I was where I was. I knew if I slowed him down anymore than what I already was he's going to bunch up his stride and he's not going to run the race that I need he thinks to run to keep going.
"It didn't set up for us, he ran a great race, the winner was just a little bit better today. I ended up having a great trip with the outside post that we had. It's difficult when you're out that far to save as much ground as we did. He ran a tremendous race.
"He just kept running. He keeps grinding and he keeps going once he's got that cruising speed and the way the race set up there was no pace so it didn't set up for his style. I was wanting it to go 22 and change and 46 and change. I imagined sitting eight, nine lengths back and tucking in where I want to be. It ended up being no pace like I thought might happen so I got lucky enough to make the right call. He ran a tremendous race."
It was another neck back to Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno), who was worth $7 as the 9-1 fourth pick.
"He's only going to get better, he's only a June 15 foal. He'll come back hopefully in a couple weeks if he comes back good, and we're ready to go," trainer Kathy Ritivo enthused about Mucho Macho Man. "He was fabulous today. It went just the way we thought it would be. He gave it his all. He finished up well. Rajiv (Maragh) said he finished up well.
"It was really exciting. When I saw him turn for home and he was running, I was jumping around and cheering him on."
"I had a great trip," said Rajiv Maragh aboard Mucho Macho Man. "My horse gave me a great feeling all around the race track. At every point in the race that I needed something from him, he gave it to me. He was just third. He ran 110 percent. He kept coming on all the way through to the wire. He ran an amazing race."
Shackleford finished fourth, three parts of a length behind Mucho Macho Man. Master of Hounds (Kingmambo) came next, with Santiva (Giant's Causeway) a nose behind in sixth and Brilliant Speed (Dynaformer) another nose back in seventh. Dialed In (Mineshaft), the 5-1 favorite, followed by another two lengths while holding Pants on Fire (Jump Start) by a neck on the wire.
Completing the order under the wire were Twice the Appeal (Successful Appeal), Soldat (War Front), Stay Thirsty (Bernardini), Derby Kitten (Kitten's Joy), Decisive Moment (With Distinction), Archarcharch (Arch), Midnight Interlude (War Chant), Twinspired (Harlan's Holiday), Watch Me Go (West Acre) and Comma to the Top. Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) was an early and well-publicized scratch on Friday.
Archarcharch was vanned off following the race after suffering a non-displaced condylar fracture, according to Dr. Larry Bramlage. Analyst Gary Stevens noted that the saddle slipped forward on the near-black colt during the running of the race, leaving jockey Jon Court with very little control.
A fast-finishing second in his career bow at Arlington Park last September, Animal Kingdom captured his second start, 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 in a Gulfstream Park turf allowance. Giving his connections a taste of what was to come in the Spiral S. (G3) last out, the chestnut angled out and rallied to score by 2 3/4 lengths in that Turfway Park Polytrack test, and was making his first start on a conventional dirt track in this spot.
The winner's share of the $2,171,8000 Derby purse skyrocketed Animal Kingdom's earnings to $1,738,700 and his record now reads 5-3-2-0.
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 (One Thousand Guineas) (Ger-G2) winner Diacada (Cadeaux Genereux); and stakes-winning Group 1 runner-up Dickens (Kallisto).
Dalicia is a full sister to Darwinia, the dam of German stakes winner Daveron (Ger) (Black Sam Bellamy), who added to the status of the family on Saturday when taking her first graded victory in the Beaugay S. (G3) at Belmont Park.