Rave Reviews? – Animal Kingdom

Back in 2009, I put together a highlight reel of quotes and prognostications about Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird leading up to his upset victory at odds of 50-1. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.

This year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was not nearly the monumental shock Mine That Bird was, but at post time odds of 20-1, he clearly was not on the radar of many bettors.

With that in mind, I decided to again comb the prediction columns of some of the racing media’s most notable figures to see where they stood on Animal Kingdom prior to the big race.

Like the movie Avatar, Animal Kingdom received mixed reviews, but ended up making all the money. In the end, that’s all that matters.

As usual, I will start the proceedings with my own analysis of Animal Kingdom, so as not to give the impression that I am just taking potshots at everyone else.

#16 – Animal Kingdom
Won the Spiral Stakes
Even connections seem tense
About his dirt form

That is what we call a good, old-fashioned swing and a miss.

But it gets worse. Have a look at this post to my Twitter feed just hours before the race…

“Triumph The Insult Comic Dog’s “No Rules In The Animal Kingdom” came on my shuffle on the way to the track. Choosing to ignore that sign.”

That’s not only a swing and a miss, that’s a swing and a miss from a tee-ball stand, then whacking yourself in the face with the bat on the backswing.

Now, let’s take a look at how some of the other members of the turf writing community saw Animal Kingdom. Just for kicks, I have arranged the analyses in a rough order by how favorably they projected the horse’s performance, from non-factor to win threat.

Let’s start at the bottom…

“Bottom line: Can dismiss.”
– Tom Pedulla, USA Today

“Another complete mystery on dirt.”
– Steven Crist, Daily Racing Form

“Still has considerable upside, but didn’t beat much in the Spiral, and that race was six weeks ago.”
– Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form

“Animal Kingdom is bred to run all day long so the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby isn’t a concern. His pedigree is geared mostly to turf racing, however, so it’s questionable if he’ll take to the dirt at Churchill Downs.”
– Dan Illman, Daily Racing Form

“Brilliant Speed and Animal Kingdom are synthetic/turf horses who may or may not relish the track…Animal Kingdom could be any kind of horse but has trained well and has yet to miss the board.”
– Jason Shandler, Blood-Horse

“Given the dirt question and the fact his major victory came in a Grade 3 race, Animal Kingdom deserves to be 25-1 in a 20-horse field. Animal Kingdom, however, seems to be generating favorable buzz, and he might not offer great value in the win pool. But given his consistency, stamina, and impressive last race, he should at least be an attractive exotic-wager proposition.”
– Marcus Hersh, Daily Racing Form

“Worth using in exotics, for sure.”
– Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form

Exotics Contenders: ANIMAL KINGDOM: In Graham We Trust. The horse looks outstanding in the flesh and should have no trouble with the Derby distance. There’s not a ton to like on past performances to be honest, but there’s an infinite amount of respect for trainer Graham Motion and I love the grassy pedigree on the dam side, so key in past Derby success stories.”
– Jeremy Plonk, ESPN

“I’m certainly going to use him in the trifecta, because people I respect say no horse had a better work than Animal Kingdom at Churchill.”
– Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal

“Yes, the dirt is a big question mark, and he’s bred for the turf, but he looked good winning the Spiral, and the horse he beat by 6 lengths came back to be beaten a nose in the Blue Grass. He made an impressive early move in the Spiral, so you know he has a turn of foot. And he’s bred to run forever, so you just have to take the chance that he’ll be as effective on dirt. In this kind of year, it’s a chance worth taking if the price is right.”
– Steve Haskin, Blood-Horse

“Trained by the very capable Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom would not be a surprise to hit the board at a big price.”
– Gene Menez, Sports Illustrated

“Love the way he won the Spiral. Watch out if he likes the dirt.”
– Andy Andrews, Kentucky Confidential

“Watch out for Animal Kingdom, especially now that John Velazquez is aboard. After all his bad luck with horses going out of the race, this is one man who is hungry for a Derby win.”
– Deirdre Biles, Blood-Horse

“Animal Kingdom is a beast of a horse who caught our eye last fall. He is long and lanky with a humongous quickening stride.”
– Bruno DeJulio, The Rail Blog – New York Times

“Roared mightily through Spiral field. Worked well on Churchill dirt. Trust in Motion and love the price.”
– John Scheinman, Kentucky Confidential

“Animal Kingdom is capable of a sustained drive for second.”
– Frank Angst, Thoroughbred Times

“I’ve got many questions about Animal Kingdom’s ability to transfer his form onto dirt, but the bottom line is that he’s improved as a 3-year-old, has the pedigree for the distance and seems adaptable to any kind of pace based on his limited starts. If he’s anywhere as good on dirt as he’s been on synthetic, he’ll be a factor in the Derby and that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to make.”
– Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans

“Animal Kingdom will win the Kentucky Derby. I know this because I didn’t write a feature about him.”
– Claire Novak, Everything (this particular quote in ESPN)

Congratulations to everyone that cashed tickets on Animal Kingdom. To everyone else, the Preakness Stakes is only a couple weeks away. There is always time for redemption.


Filed under Triple Crown

6 responses to “Rave Reviews? – Animal Kingdom

  1. Nice recap-others who picked Animal Kingdom outright to win included Joe Drape of the NY Times and The Wizard at DRF . Gus Alonso on Steve Byk’s radio show the Thursday before the race picked him 2nd behind Nehro

  2. Calvin L. Carter

    The Michigan-Bred Claimer,

    Kentucky Derby 2011 was not a mystery to every sports writer/blogger. I picked Animal Kingdom to be my Derby favorite last December:


  3. ragman

    The Saratogian has some very good turf writers. Michael Veitch: Animal Kingdom Is a Live Longshot and Jeff Scott: A Closer Look at Animal Kingdom. (Never knew that horses in Germany who race on medication don’t get bred.)

  4. greg

    The Kentucky Derby
    by Greg Padala on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8:06am
    this was my facebook post
    The day is upon me. I have watched many a Derby . I’ve watched at Churchill Downs surrounded by my buddies, I’ve watched with family and friends in front of the tv, I’ve gone to the local tracks surrounded by other fans and gambling deviates, I’ve watched it with my Mom and Dad-no matter where I’ve found myself viewing it there is a common denominator-it still thrills me to watch this greatest two minutes in sports. As someone whose been a little involved with horses just getting you’re horse into that starting gate is a mighty challenge. The obstacles in the way are beyond measure yet every year about twenty make it there, only one will win and become part of history. Today I’ll make my bet and for the few moments up to and during the race I’ll have bought into being a part of the experience, that horse I’ll bet will allow me to share in the joy of victory or feel the disappointment of not winning. Over the years there have been more disappointments then victories but I guess that’s life wrapped into a two minute sporting event, but win or lose it’s worth the gamble. Today’s bet will be on Animal Kingdom-will he join the short list of winners I’ve had like Silver Charm, Sea Hero, Sunday Silence or fade into the obscurity of the losing bets-I guess I’ll know soon.

  5. Great post, Joe.

    I view Animal Kingdom in a different light from Mine That Bird… Never in a million years could I imagine betting MTB in the Kentucky Derby, even knowing what I know now! …And that’s coming from someone who lived in MTB’s home state of New Mexico (and ran The Downs at Albuquerque and The Downs at Santa Fe, at one time). By comparison, AK had run against moderate competition — it just wasn’t convincing enough for me (and others) to include him in my top three or four (or seven or eight!).

    One thing which I did think was notable about this edition of the Derby was just how many runners had seven or fewer lifetime starts. I don’t know if this is a growing trend, but it certainly didn’t used to be that way. …Making it all the harder to handicap the race.

    In defense of others — like me — who discounted Animal Kingdom, Barry Irwin of Team Valor looked as stunned as anyone after the race. So why should I have gotten on board with a horse even the owners didn’t appear to take all that seriously? LOL !!!

    This is certainly a major feather in the cap of the Hungarian breeding industry, since Animal Kingdom boasts a Hungarian bottom line. Should we expect to see a bunch of Hungarian broodmares being offered at Keeneland next Fall in response to the newfound fashionability of those bloodlines?

    Oh well, I guess it’s nothing but sour grapes from me until two weeks from now when I have the chance to redeem myself at Pimlico… Who do you like???

  6. John S.

    Thanks for the “props,” Joe. Great seeing you in Baltimore. You should have packed up that food, though, for a midnight snack!

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