x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom resting in England until Royal Ascot

The first American horse to win Meydan Racecourse's biggest event will team up with American jockey John Velazquez at Royal Ascot in nine weeks in the Queen Anne Stakes, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Horse trainer Graham Motion spends some quality time with Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom at the Kingsdown Stables in Lambourn, England.  Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Riddle
Horse trainer Graham Motion spends some quality time with Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom at the Kingsdown Stables in Lambourn, England. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Riddle

Animal Kingdom may be an extremely adaptable athlete but the Dubai World Cup winner has had to be entirely accommodating, also.

The strapping chestnut colt stands proudly in his box, surveying his new domain in the Berkshire Downs, looking out across what is known in this part of the world as the Valley of the Racehorse.

For miles in all directions are rolling pastures, hedges and spinneys, which for the five-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux is a far cry from the spick-and-span desert facilities of Meydan Racecourse, where 19 days ago he won the world's richest race. From the look of the leafless trees it is still winter here, too.

Having become the first American horse to prevail on Tapeta in Meydan's biggest event, Animal Kingdom shipped out a week after his most lucrative triumph to this quiet corner of England only an hour outside London.

Much like Dubai, and much like the dirt surface he ran on competitively for the first time to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby, Kingsdown Stables is an alien environment to Animal Kingdom. He had better get used to it.

Pheasants lodge themselves in the trees alongside the all-weather walk, waiting to scare the tense and anxious thoroughbreds that come by. Animal Kingdom is such a cool customer, though, that even the local flock of alpacas has failed to ruffle him since he arrived.

He was taken out for his first two pieces of real work on Tuesday and yesterday by Alice Clapham, the trainer Graham Motion's travelling head groom, who supervised proceedings in Dubai before Motion arrived for the World Cup.

There are a multitude of gallops in Lambourn, which makes a change from morning track work around Meydan, day in and day out.

"So far we have just galloped four furlongs on the all-weather gallop out the back of Kingsdown," Clapham said. "It's a real change here and you have to learn the feel of galloping up a proper hill, rather than going around an oval track."

"It's going to be a steep learning curve for the both of us but he seemed to handle it well and we are really happy with the condition he is in."

Animal Kingdom has been pencilled in to compete at Royal Ascot in nine weeks in the Queen Anne Stakes, which was won last year in impressive fashion by Frankel.

The last two Dubai World Cup winners to move on to the Royal Meeting both remained at 10 furlongs and participated in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. Dubai Millennium routed the field in 2000, while Moon Ballad struggled to hold his form and finished ninth three years later.

Motion does not believe that is the right path for his charge, who ran a huge race off a 259-day layoff to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Mile in November.

Where American tracks and Meydan Racecourse are all flat and left-handed, Ascot's stiff finish and right-handed nature has the trainer leaning towards dropping back two furlongs.

"Your mile at Ascot is much more gruelling, and a mile and a quarter to us in the States is like a mile and a half [in England] and may just be too much," Motion said, having arrived on Monday, with his veterinarian Luis Castro, for a short visit.

"It is a relief that there is no Frankel. The Queen Anne is an interesting option and it is something that I think he can adapt to."

Joel Rosario was on board at Meydan; it was his first time riding at the Dubai facility, but Motion does not expect the jockey to have to put in the homework once more to familiarise himself to the rigours of riding at the Royal Meeting.

Rosario had the benefit in Dubai of watching the UAE Derby over the World Cup surface and distance prior to partnering Animal Kingdom. After Lines Of Battle had won a race run at a slow tempo, Motion met with the Dominican rider to discuss what they had seen and to formulate a plan of attack.

With the Queen Anne Stakes being the opening race of Royal Ascot, Rosario would not have that luxury and Motion prefers John Velazquez, who rode the American challenger Jealous Again to success in the Queen Mary Stakes in 2009.

"It is asking a lot for an American jockey to ride here if he hasn't ridden here before," Motion said. "It is not as if he can watch a race first.

"Velazquez is one of the best jockeys in the world. He has ridden Animal Kingdom before and has won at Ascot so is the logical choice."


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