The 2011 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on 7th May delivered a surprising result and sensational contest. The Graham Motion trained outsider, Animal Kingdom, surged out of the pack on the stretch under John Velazquez and galloped gamely home to win by nearly three lengths from the much more strongly fancied Steven Asmussen runner, Nehro, ridden by Corey Nakatani.
The Kathy Ritvo trained 9.3/1 shot, Mucho Macho Man was third by a neck. The gallant pacemaker, the Dale Romans trained Shackleford, who had led the Kentucky Derby field almost from the off and continued in the lead until the final furlong, held on for fourth having started at odds in excess of 23/1.
The only UK based horse to make the trip to Churchill downs, Master Of Hounds, finished a very respectable fifth under Garrett Gomez for Ballydoyle. Trainer Aidan O’Brien was delighted by his horse’s performance, particularly because it was his first attempt at racing on dirt.
The 5.2/1 market favourite, Dialed In, trained by Nicholas Zito and ridden by Leparoux was a major disappointment for his many followers. He started slowly and had nothing but fresh air behind him for the majority of the race. He entered the straight in 17th place and stayed on under pressure to finish eighth.
Leparoux had probably misjudged the pace. For once it was not excessive in the early stages and the field did not come back to him. The final time of 2 minutes 2.4 seconds confirmed that it was a relatively steady pace set by Shackleford as his placing suggested.
Just behind Dialed In was Pants on Fire, trained by Kelly Breen and partnered by Rosie Napravnik. Unlike Leparoux, Napravnik was always up with the pace and was the first woman to bid for glory in America’s most prestigious race.
Velazquez gave Animal Kingdom a more patient ride. He settled the son of Brazilian miler Leroidesanimaux in the second half of the pack before asking him to close on the leaders three furlongs from home. By the final furlong he had taken the lead and ran on powerfully all the way to the line.
Animal Kingdom was a chance ride for Velazquez. It was the first time he had ridden him. Velazquez was supposed to be partnering the champion two year old, Uncle Mo, for his regular employer, Todd Pletcher, until he was declared a non runner on Friday morning.
The ill fated Robby Albarado was originally booked to ride Animal Kingdom but Team Valor, the horse’s owners, decided to jock him off after he broke his nose in a fall earlier in the week. The injury did not stop Albarado riding other horses on the day, including a Grade 1 win on Sassy Image, but Team Valor insisted on Velazquez as soon the 39 year old became available.
Animal Kingdom may have asserted his superiority on the day but he was not exactly prominent in the betting market. He started as one of the outsiders at a price in excess of 20/1. No wonder he attracted relatively attention in the US betting markets. With only four races under his belt he was incredibly lightly raced and totally untried in such high class company. It was also his first experience of racing on dirt.
It was a significant triumph for his English born trainer, Graham Motion. Animal Kingdom was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby in over 50 years after a month and a half away from the racetrack.
Ironically Motion’s more strongly fancied Kentucky Derby entrant, Toby’s Corner, had to be withdrawn from the race after he suffered an injury to a hind leg shortly before the race. Motion himself viewed the horse as his biggest chance. He was said to have been dangerously close to tears when explaining the withdrawal of Toby’s Corner earlier in the week.
46 year old Motion moved to the US at just 16 years of age with his father Michael who used to work for Tattersalls, representing the sales company in the US market. Motion is well established as a US trainer with an impressive track record. Currently based in Maryland, he has already enjoyed considerable success at the Fair Hill Training Center.
Motion has trained over 1,000 winners in America including two Breeders’ Cup winners but the biggest race of them all had so far eluded him. In the 2010 Breeders’ Cup he saddled Shared Account who triumphed in the Filly & Mare Turf. In the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Better Talk Now was also successful in the Turf.
Whilst Motion and Velazquez were jubilant and Steve Asmussen was praising the wisdom of Corey Nakatani in taking advantage of the relatively slow pace, Nicholas Zito and thousands of punters were understandably disappointed by the ride Leparoux had given his star performer.
Other disappointed trainers included William Fires. His 12.5/1 shot, Archarcharch, winner of the Arkansas Derby, was always behind and could only finish in fifteenth place. He was found to be lame after the race and was later discovered to have suffered a fracture.
Peter Miller’s Comma To The Top, never viewed as a serious contender starting at 36/1, failed to impress and finished last. He incurred a fetlock injury during the race.
The 2011 Kentucky Derby may not have delivered for favourite followers but it was not short of drama and produced generous profits for Animal Kingdom’s supporters.
Kentucky Derby Result 2011
Track condition: fast.
- Animal Kingdom 21/1
- Nehro 17/2
- Mucho Macho Man 9/1
- Shackleford 23/1