• Animal Kingdom: To Move or Not to Move?

    POSTED Feb 14, 2013
    Shortly after the result of last Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap was made official, the grumbling began.

    Joel Rosario moved too soon on Animal Kingdom, the bloggers and Facebookers whined. Had the young jockey just let the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner run his race — rate off the pace and make one sustained run — surely he’d have won or, at the very least, run much better.

    Jockey John Velazquez, rider of the race winner Point of Entry, added to the social media uproar when he noted that Rosario probably would have beaten him home had the jockey “waited behind me.”

    “He made a move so big that he changed his style to my horse’s style, so it worked out to my advantage,” Velazquez said.

    Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, echoed Velazquez’s sentiments on my latest podcast.

    “Look, I’ve spoken with Joel [Rosario] since the race; I’ve spoken with Johnny [Velazquez] since the race,” Motion told me, “and Joel has basically admitted that he kind of got coaxed into making a premature move.

    “Johnny Velazquez is a very smart rider,” Motion went on. “He knows my horse very well — just as well as he knows Point of Entry. And if you notice when they turned down the backside he moved out almost to the middle of the track and kind of lured Joel into that spot [along the rail].

    “I think, really, we got outsmarted by Johnny knowing both horses really well,” the veteran trainer concluded.

    I don’t know.

    Look, I respect Motion’s opinion — he came across as very upfront and honest on my show — but Velazquez’s comments can be taken with a grain of salt, especially if he’s aboard the son of Leroidesanimaux in Dubai, the site of the Animal Kingdom’s next start in the $10 million World Cup.

    Remember, Velazquez rode Animal Kingdom to his biggest victory (as well as the horse’s only out-of-the-money finish when he broke tardily for the second time in a row and finished a badly-beaten sixth in the Belmont Stakes... no word as to whether or not Rosario gave him any advice afterwards) and I’m sure he’d like to trump that in the World Cup.

    But regardless of the motives, given the pace scenario and the horses involved, I just don’t think it would have mattered whether Animal Kingdom waited to make his bid or not. The fact is he’s made numerous bold moves from the first call to the second call with no ill effect.

    In the Spiral Stakes, he went from seventh, trailing by 4 ¼ lengths at the half-mile call to fourth, trailing by 2 ¼ lengths, as the field turn for home. In the Kentucky Derby, he rallied from 12th, 6 ¼ lengths back, at the first call, to fifth, a mere 2 ¾ lengths in arrears at the second (granted, more distance was covered in that instance).

    In fact, only twice in his entire career has Animal Kingdom failed to gain at least one position from the first call to the second call and that was in his second lifetime start and last year's Breeders’ Cup Mile.

    What’s more, if you look at the speed and pace figures for both Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom, it’s hard not to conclude that Point of Entry is simply a better horse, at least on the lawn.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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