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"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Animal Kingdom: The People's Champion

Much of the horse racing world had latched on to Uncle Mo back in the spring of 2011. He was a big gun from a big barn, and nothing short of a Kentucky Derby day victory would have been acceptable. This outcome was not to be, though. Uncle Mo was scratched during Derby week, leaving Dialed In as the top choice among the betting public. Nick Zito had Dialed In primed for a monumental derby run, yet when he failed to fire, the gates of opportunity were left wide open for a new hero to be born that day.

John Velasquez had picked up the mount on Animal Kingdom when original rider, Robby Alborado, was sidelined with an injury. It may very well go down as the most prolific pick-up mount in Kentucky Derby history. As the race unfolded, Animal Kingdom sat well off the pace, and as they turned for home, Velasquez and the three-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux stormed the Churchill Down's stretch, leaving the remains of a tiring field in their wake. A new hero had been born, indeed.

Animal Kingdom battled injuries following his triumph in the 2011 Run for the Roses, and subsequent second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. It appeared that Graham Motion's colt was just another derby winner that would amount to little beyond his crowning achievement, or so it seemed. Then, in early 2012, Motion found a spot for Animal Kingdom in a race on the Gulfstream Park turf course. He would go on to win against allowance competition handily, yet little did the public know then that Motion was carving out a path that would soon take the derby champion to some of racing's most coveted stages.

Neither of Animal Kingdom's next two races resulted in a win. In the 2012 Breeder's Cup Mile, he finished a fast closing second to eventual Horse of the Year, Wise Dan. Many believed that the best horse did not win that day. He also finished second in his next outing, a race where jockey Joel Rosario was criticized for moving Animal Kingdom up too soon, ultimately succumbing to the outside pressure from Point of Entry.

Joel Rosario was anything but the scapegoat the next time these two would hook up. On March 30th of this year, Graham Motion decided to bring the Animal Kingdom road show to Dubai in order to take part in the planet's richest race. It was one of the most dominant victories yet to be seen in the Dubai World Cup.

Animal Kingdom has proven himself on conventional dirt, on synthetic surfaces, and on the grass. He is far from undefeated, yet each time he loads into the starting gate, fans are aware they are about to become witness to something very special. Animal Kingdom is a horse with far superior intangibles than past performances. His company lines read like a who's who of today's racing. He has attracted the sport's biggest riders, and he remains an equine specimen you can't help but root for.

Tuesday Morning, Animal Kingdom will attempt to conquer the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race renowned for posting such recent winners as Frankel and Goldikova. Should he win there, he has a chance to cement his place alongside some of the sport's all-time greats. He is our reminder that being down is not necessarily the same thing as being out. There are horses with cleaner records, and others with better Beyer speed figures, but the undeniable truth about Animal Kingdom is that he has an electricity that cannot be taught or duplicated. This charm, this magnetism will be on full display Tuesday as the People's Champion rallies to hit the wire first at Ascot.

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.