Animal Kingdom headed to Belmont Sunday

Trainer Graham Motion wants Derby winner to get accustomed to Belmont surface

June 02, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Graham Motion, who trainedAnimal Kingdom to a victory in the Kentucky Derby and then a second place finish in the Preakness, said Thursday that he plans to ship the chestnut colt to New York Sunday — almost a week ahead of time — to give him a better chance to prepare for theBelmont Stakes.

That strategy is a departure from what Motion did withAnimal Kingdom prior to the Preakness, when he kept him at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton until the day of the race. Motion said he's not second-guessing that plan; he simply wants Animal Kingdom to have more time to adjust to the unique track at Belmont. Nicknamed "Big Sandy," the Belmont track is unlike any America. Not only is it the only mile-and-a-half race track in the country, the surface is a unique mixture of sand and loam that tends to cup the hooves ofhorses.

Motion said he didn't see any benefit, especially with only a two-week layoff after the Derby, to Animal Kingdom working out at Pimlico before the Preakness. But after talking it over with Barry Irwin, who runs the partnership that owns Animal Kingdom, and jockey John Velazquez, he decided it would be good for the horse to head to New York early.

"It's such a unique track, it made sense to be there for several days," Motion said. "He needs to have a workout, and if he's going to have one, it might as well be on the track he's going to run on."

Motion said he feels lucky to have Velazquez riding Animal Kingdom at the Belmont. Not only is it the jockey's home track, he's already won a Belmont aboard D'Tara in 2008. Velazquez is also one of Motion's closest friends.

"It's one of the races that's unique to everything we do," Motion said. "I definitely think having Johnny is a big advantage."

Animal Kingdom will face some stiff competition. Including him, the top seven finishers from the Derby are expected to run, including Preakness winnerShackleford, although trainer Dale Romans won't officially enter him until early next week. He wants to make sure he's fully recovered from the Preakness, but has already shipped him to New York in anticipation.

"I think as long as I don't see something negative, as long as he keeps training the way he is and keeps his energy, we'll be in the race," Romans said.

Maryland's other entry in the Preakness, Monzon, will ship to Belmont on the eve of race day, said Tom Mullikan, general manager at Sagamore Farm. Mullikan said the horse likes the surroundings at Sagamore and they shipped close to race day the last time they raced at Belmont on May 14 for the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes.

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