It takes a lot more than good looks to win the Triple Crown, but the exciting Animal Kingdom (2008) not only boasts a wonderful trainer of the British school, but a pedigree that is dappled with outstanding individuals. This look at our newest Kentucky Derby winner concentrates on his sire and a handful of champions who feature in his pedigree over the first 5 generations.
Whereas the British Triple Crown is run over grass on courses not strictly flat, at distances from 1 mile to 1 mile 6 furlongs, the American Triple is run on dirt on flat courses, at distances of 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles. In other words, what a classic horse is asked to show in either contest is stamina, speed and heart, or a willingness to go on. Arguably, the British, Australian and European thoroughbred is more likely to be bred for distance than the North American thoroughbred at this point in time. (In both Canada and the USA the market tends to favour early precocity and a quicker profit, hence the popularity of the Storm Cats, many of whom displayed exactly these qualities.)
A son of Leroidesanimaux (2000), who was bred and born in Brazil and the competent German-bred mare, Dalicia (2001), Animal Kingdom has a decidedly non-North American bloodline in his first 5 generations, with the exception of a 4X4 to Lyphard (1989) a son of Northern Dancer (1961). Even there, Lyphard ran in France before he was retired, which certainly doesn’t change his bloodline or its impact on Animal Kingdom, except to say that Lyphard was a proven European turf champion. In fact, with a few exceptions, the greatest Northern Dancers were all British or European champions, bred to go a distance. And, as we have seen with Animal Kingdom to date, he is very good indeed on turf — and possibly just as good, or better, on dirt.
Animal Kingdom’s sire, affectionately known as “Leroy” to his many, many fans began his racing career in Brazil. Purchased by TNT Stud, Leroy was shipped to California as a 3 year-old, to the stable of the great Bobby Frankel, where he raced until 2005. Leroy’s racing career was distinguished by an Eclipse Award for American Champion Male Turf horse in 2005, two track records (Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap in 2004 and the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga in 2005) and a landmark victory in the 2005 Atto Mile (Woodbine) of 7 3/4 lengths — the largest margin of victory ever — while carrying the highest weight of any thoroughbred in the race’s history. In the first of two ironies in this article, John Velazquez was aboard Leroy on that day. The recorded footage says it all:
No doubt about it: Leroy was an outstanding miler. But he also had enough heart to go on forever, as he did in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he finished a game second despite sore feet and improper shoes from a post position on the extreme outside.
Candy Stripes (1982) is the grandsire of Animal Kingdom. He raced — unimpressively — in France before being retired to stand in Argentina, where he was twice a Champion sire. Candy Stripes’ most famous son is the incomparable Invasor (2002), a Uruguayan Triple Crown winner and American Horse of the Year who took the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the 2007 Dubai World Cup. Candy Stripes is also the broodmare sire of Candy Ride (1999), the champion mare, Different (1992), a grade 1 winner in both Argentina and the USA, who retired with earnings of over 1 million USD and Lundy’s Liability (2000) still another millionaire offspring. As has been said, thoroughbred horse racing is blissfully unpredictable and Candy Stripes is a case in point. A mediocre athlete who turned out to be a brilliant sire!
On Animal Kingdom’s bottom line, there are also some outstanding individuals. First among these is undoubtedly his broodmare sire, Acatenango, a German thoroughbred legend. Winner of the German Derby (GER-Gr.1), the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (FR-Gr.1), the Grosser Preis von Berlin (GER-Gr.1), the Union-Rennen (GER-Gr.2), the Grosser Hertie-Preis (GER-Gr.2), the Grosser Hansa-Preis (GER-G2) and the Gerling Preis (GER-G3), which he won twice, Acatenango was a class act on the turf. In this link, although the commentary is in German, you can watch the great horse win the German Derby:
He was voted German Horse of the Year no less than 3 times and was a champion sire for four years, between 1993-1999. An individual with a largely open pedigree over 5 generations, Acatenango shows only one instance of inbreeding over 5 generations, to the great Hyperion. Animal Kingdom’s broodmare sire certainly brings a champion’s profile to his grandson, further influencing the speed-stamina balance in our Kentucky Derby winner’s pedigree.
Animal Kingdom’s dam, Dalicia, is also a granddaughter of the magnificent Dancing Brave (1983) through her dam, Dynamis (1991). In Great Britain, Dancing Brave is the stuff of legends. His image has been immortalized in paintings, websites and books. A beautiful dark brown colt with a majestic head and an intelligent look, Dancing Brave delighted British racing fans throughout his career. His best race was certainly the 1986 Arc de Triomphe (see link below) where — in still another ironic twist — he defeated Acatenango. Here’s that race, with a German voiceover, but otherwise excellent coverage:
As a runner, the colt was noted for his honesty and his great heart. Upon his untimely death of a heart attack at the young age of 16 years, Geoff Lawson, assistant-trainer to Guy Harwood who trained Dancing Brave, described the son of Lyphard as “extra, extra special”, adding: “He was a brilliant animal with a superb temperament-the sort of horse who made going to work in the mornings something special for everyone in the yard.”
A truly remarkable feature of Animal Kingdom’s bloodline is the number of thoroughbreds represented who were known for their willingness and a calm, business-like disposition. It would appear that our 2011 Kentucky Derby winner has this kind of character in spades and we find this an important quality in a possible Triple Crown winner. Two of the most recent Triple Crown champions — Secretariat and Affirmed — were just this way throughout their campaign, solid thoroughbreds who seemed to take all the hoopla in stride, while continuing to learn and develop between the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom’s trainer, is very well-respected on both sides of the Atlantic. Born into a horse racing family, Motion was exposed to the British turf by his father and other family connections before coming to the United States. Although he arrived in the USA as a teenager, British horse racing had made an important impact on him at a comparatively early age. His attitude is that of most great teachers (as well as trainers like his mentor, Jonathon Sheppard): you take the horse from where he’s at to as far as he wants to go. You don’t push: you wait for the horse to tell you what happens next. Add to this a background from a country where horses are galloped over hills and dales in a weirdly unassuming way, as trainers watch their development with a keen, quiet eye and plot their racing careers, and you have a fair idea of the sensibility that governs Animal Kingdom’s racing family.
Our Kentucky Derby winner has a hard campaign ahead of him, no question. But we’re betting on one thing for certain: no matter how he finishes, Animal Kingdom will give both the Preakness and the Belmont his very best shot.
It’s in his blood and in his brave heart: he is, after all, the son and grandson of champions.