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Animal Kingdom Ready To Begin His Global Journey

The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner will make his seasonal debut in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom
Al Bello

It's a quiet weekend on the road to the Kentucky Derby but it's a start to what could be a big 2013 for a former Derby winner in Florida. Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, makes his seasonal debut in the G1-Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap before possible trips to the UAE, England and Australia. In the process, he'll have the opportunity to accomplish some rare feats for an American horse.

As pointed out by our pedigree guru TFTribe, and by myself, Animal Kingdom possesses one of the more unique pedigrees you'll find in a current American thoroughbred. Animal Kingdom is sired by noted turf miler Leroidesanimaux (BRZ), who himself is a son of Candy Stripes. Candy Stripes is well known for also producing Horse of the Year Invasor (ARG), as well as Candy Ride (ARG). Once of the interesting qualities of the offspring of Candy Stripes is their ability to run well over a variety of different surfaces: dirt, turf and synthetic. That's certainly an asset in today's game.

The bottom half of Animal Kingdom's pedigree is littered with the strong stamina influences of German thoroughbreds, particularly his dam sire, Acatenango (GER). So on paper, Animal Kingdom is a "rare" breed, to be sure.

But getting away from the pedigree, let's think about the potential accomplishments of this rare breed by the end of this year. He's already a Kentucky Derby winner, along with a winner of the G3-Spiral Stakes on the Polytrack at Turfway. A victory on Saturday at Gulfstream Park would make AK a graded stakes winner on dirt, turf and synthetics. A win in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 30 would put Animal Kingdom in elite company with Lava Man as the only US-based horse to win a Grade/Group 1 race on all three surfaces.

Then, potentially, comes the cherry on the sundae.

If Animal Kingdom does in fact travel to England for a start at Royal Ascot in June - and I would expect him to run in a race like the mile Queen Anne Stakes or the ten furlong Prince of Wales's Stakes - he has an opportunity to retire as one of the more accomplished American thoroughbreds in terms of international success in history. While U.S. trainers have sent runners to Royal Ascot on occasion the last few years (especially the Ramseys), nothing could match the buzz surrounding a Kentucky Derby winner running at one of the most exclusive meets in the world.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself just a bit -- something that's always precarious when dealing with the fragile animal known as the thoroughbred. And Animal Kingdom himself has failed to stay healthy over the last couple of seasons, leading to only three races since his Triple Crown season ended in 2011. So we can't put the cart in front of the proverbial actual horse. But regardless, it's fun to envision the possible accomplishments on the horizon if everything falls into place.

Animal Kingdom's first test comes in Saturday's GP Turf Handicap against of field of five rivals, including Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up Point of Entry.The nine furlong distance is right in the sweet spot for Animal Kingdom; he should have no problem adjusting to a variety of pace scenarios.

On the other hand, I think Point of Entry might want just a bit more ground to cover given his success last year. He appears to be better suited for 10 to 12 furlongs and might not have enough of a late kick to make up the necessary ground in this spot.

G1-Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap; Post Time: 4:01pm ET
PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Film Making E. Prado J. Baker 20/1
2 Point of Entry J. Velazquez S. McGaughey 9/5
3 Salto (IRE) J. Bravo T. Pletcher 4/1
4 Unbridled Command J. Castellano T. Bush 15/1
5 Where's the Baby J. Bridgmohan D. Kassen 4/1
6 Animal Kingdom J. Rosario G. Motion 8/5