Team America hope Ascot can be their Kingdom
Monday 17 June 2013
By Geoffrey Riddle
Animal Kingdom will become the first Kentucky Derby winner to line up at Royal Ascot since Omaha in 1936 when he takes on 12 rivals in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.
Animal Kingdom looks set to start at odds-on for the opening race of 30 at the Berkshire track as he bids to become only the third favourite to win the Group One mile contest since 1998.
Goldikova and Frankel showed in 2010 and 12 months ago that being heavily backed is no obstacle to success but where the great mare and the world’s highest-rated thoroughbred had solid form on turf and over a mile, Animal Kingdom appears priced up on his much-vaunted reputation.
Animal Kingdom has won the Kentucky Derby on dirt and the Dubai World Cup on Tapeta, but he is still yet to win a race over a mile, or a major one on turf, from his 11 starts.
The American challenger has never tackled an undulating straight competitively, either, and at a best-priced 5-6 with Paddy Power for his first race since the World Cup in March even trainer Graham Motion is sceptical at the prices.
“What we are taking on is a huge challenge and he is probably a short price for what we are doing,” the Cambridge-born trainer said.
"When things look too good to be true, it makes me worry more. He still has to go out there and run his race, going into uncharted territory.
"There are so many variables. The weather, distance and doing the training here are all different.
"We're not ducking anybody and it's admirable that the owners want to do this. It's been a great experience and for me it's a relief that all his work is now behind him. I worry more than I should.”
Barry Irwin, the chief executive officer of Team Valor International, the syndicate part-owners and breeder, let slip last week that when he initially came up with the Royal Ascot plan he believed the Queen Anne Stakes was staged on the round course.
“When I thought about Ascot, in my mind I'm was thinking about the St James's Palace Stakes, which is around a turn” the 70-year-old said. “Then it dawned on me, this darned race is run up the straight. For at least a month, I was very apprehensive."
In order to get a better picture of Ascot, Motion flew from America to walk the course with Chris Stickels, the clerk of the course at Ascot. Almost immediately he gravitated to the Queen Anne in preference to the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, run over two furlongs further on the round course on Wednesday.
The connections to Animal Kingdom then arranged for a racecourse gallop, but such is Animal Kingdom’s current frame of mind that he appeared to jump the finishing line under big-race partner John Velazquez. As a precaution, Animal Kingdom will wear a shadow noseband.
To highlight further the enormity of the task ahead of the son of the brilliant miler Leroidesanimaux, no horse trained in America has ever won a Group One race at Royal Ascot in the modern era.
Omaha failed to justify quotes of 11-8 when unable to hold off Quashed in an epic duel down the Ascot straight in the Gold Cup and Foxhall remains the only American winner of the Ascot Gold Cup, having scored in 1882.
American horses have won European Group One races before, most recently when the Irish 2,000 Guineas was won by Fourstars Allstar, while Hard Buck was second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July 2004.
Only Wesley Ward has struck for North America at the Royal meeting, when he sent out both Jealous Again and Strike The Tiger to pounce in the Queen Mary Stakes and the Windsor Castle Stakes from five runners in 2009.
According to Timeform, Animal Kingdom has only three pounds in hand of David Simcock’s Trade Storm, who also flourished in the desert in Dubai.
Trade Storm struck in the Group 2 Zabeel Mile before struggling to reel in Godolphin’s Sajjhaa, Mike De Kock’s The Apache and Alain de Royer-Dupre’s Giofra in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.
John Gosden’s Elusive Kate has five pounds to find according to the ratings service, and the filly will be having her first start of the campaign having last been seen finishing third to Excelebration over this course and distance in the QEII in October.
Patrick Barbe, racing manager to owner Teruya Yoshida, said: "It is her first run of the year as there are more races for her in the summer and the autumn.
"She does not need to be 100% at this time of the year, but she does normally run well fresh.
"We'll see how things go, but I think at the moment, the programme will be more or less the same as last year."
Animal Kingdom's fee has been set for Arrowfield Stud in Australia and although 50 per cent owner John Messara has left the door open for another race, this is almost certainly Animal Kingdom's final racecourse hurrah.
“This is what racing is all about really,” Motion added. “It would have been very easy to pull up stumps and head to Australia for stud.
“This will be a shot in the arm for America if he could win and I feel very fortunate to be part of it.”
Queen Anne Stakes - Paddy Power: 5-6 Animal Kingdom 6 Declaration Of War, 7 Elusive Kate, 11 Aljamaaheer, 14 Trade Storm, Sovreign Debt, Gregorian, 25 Trumpet Major, Gabrial, 33 Chil The Kite, Penitent, 80 Monsieur Chevalier, Libranno. Each-way 1/4 1,2,3.
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