Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Kentucky Derby 137 Wrap: Ruling the Kingdom

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 8, 2011

The 137th Kentucky Derby was one for the record books and in more ways than one. In front of the largest Derby crowd in history, 164,858 fans to be exact, Animal Kingdom became the first horse in history to win the world’s greatest race having never run on dirt before.

When jockey John Velasquez replaced the injured Robby Albarado on Animal Kingdom in the Derby after his mount, 2010 Champion Two Year Old Male Uncle Mo, was scratched Friday morning, it was with far lower performances expectations in mind. None of that mattered after Velazquez guided Animal Kingdom to a flawless win in the $3 million dollar race for three year olds.

Trainer Graham Motion came roaring onto the Kentucky Derby scene on April 9th when Toby’s Corner defeated Uncle Mo to win the Wood Memorial (gr.1) and stamp his ticket to the Derby. It appeared Motion was on his way to Louisville with a legitimate contender until a problem was detected in the colt’s left rear leg and he was withdrawn from race consideration. Motion was left with Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr.3) Animal Kingdom as his final Derby possible but the colt had never started on dirt in his career. None of that mattered on Saturday when Animal Kingdom flew to a 2 ¾ length victory over 18 of the nation’s best colts to give Motion his first win in the Kentucky Derby.

As the field thundered from the gate to the roar from the massive Churchill Downs crowd, Animal Kingdom came out a step slow from post #17 but quickly got into stride and was guided towards the inside rail by Velazquez. Comma to the Top broke fastest of all from post six as Shackelford charged into the fore from post fourteen, quickly taking the lead by half a length passing by  the stands for the first time. Nehro surprisingly tossed his late running ways to the wind and broke sharply, placing himself just behind the leaders in sixth on the outside with Mucho Macho Man just behind and race favorite Dialed In dead last well out of it into the first turn. Animal Kingdom raced on the outside in the clear in thirteenth around the first turn and into the backstretch as Shackleford led the field through a first quarter in :23.74. Racing down the backside Shackleford continued to lead as the field’s positions remained relatively unchanged, Archarcharch ran in sixteenth after breaking awkwardly from post one as Dialed continued to trail.

As the field approached the far turn Shackleford led the field by a length and a half as Nehro moved up on the outside to take second with Pants on Fire and Comma to the Top started their rally’s, the four of them fanned out across the track. Through the turn they charged at the leaders, Pants on Fire dropping back as Animal Kingdom began to uncork his run from far back and Mucho Macho Man struggled through traffic mid pack. Into the stretch Shackleford continued to lead, running his heart out on the rail as Nehro showed a completely new dimension, coming strong from off the pace to inch his way past Shackleford. A second after Nehro took the lead Animal Kingdom literally exploded under Velasquez and came charging hard on the outside. Bursting past the leaders he flew down the stretch, Nehro struggling to keep up as Shackleford refused to give in and Mucho Macho Man finally broke through and found his best stride. Blazing under the line Animal Kingdom finished full of run with Nehro finishing second by a neck over a fast charging Mucho Macho Man with Shackleford hanging tough to finish just ¾ of a length back in fourth.

Graham Motion - Anne M. Eberhardt

Motion was shocked after the race stating that he never expected to win the Derby. “To win the Derby is not something I ever expected to do. I’m always going to be considered a Kentucky Derby winning trainer and that speaks volumes.” It was an all around feel good story that surrounded the Derby victory this year. Jockey John Velazquez has had his mounts scratched three years in-a-row now going back to 2009 when Quality Road was scratched with a quarter crack as the favorite. In 2010 Eskendereya was scratched as the probably favorite because of a leg injury. This year Uncle Mo was scratched as the second favorite and certainly the most talked about Derby contender.

Animal Kingdom was clearly the best horse in the race and has now registered three wins in five starts. His Derby move was almost identical to his Vinery Spiral win and the impressive victor has already been given the go ahead to point for the Preakness Stakes (Gr.1) on May 21st. Dialed In who never seemed to launch a serious rally in the Derby will be pointed for the Preakness as will Mucho Macho Man who ran a strong third in the Derby. Nehro, Shackleford and Santiva are also possible to return for the Preakness but it looks like Nehro could skip in favor of the Belmont Stakes (gr.1).

Shackleford turned in a terrific effort in the Derby, setting all the fractions up front and losing by less than four lengths. Archarcharch was pulled up after the race and vanned off in an ambulance. Apparently the talented colt sustained a lateral condylar fracture that is not life threatening.

I had so much fun with the Derby this year, being so involved and up to date. When the horses were walking by in the post parade I tweeted my top three choices were Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In and Shackleford. Santiva and Nehro also looked really good warming up and then at one point I turned to my sister when Animal Kingdom jogged across the screen and said “He looks like he’s ready to run big but I’m not going to tweet him because I’ll look like an idiot when he loses.” She laughed along with me and then said “Now watch him go and win.” You have to love irony.

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2 Responses to “Kentucky Derby 137 Wrap: Ruling the Kingdom”

  1. Love me some Irony. Been there done that.

    Should have tweeted. 😉

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