The winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom, has been away from the racetrack since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes in June. It was in that race that it is believed he suffered a slab fracture, for which he underwent surgery on June 30. Of course, we can all rehash the start where the Derby winner was badly squeezed and really surrendered all chance he had to win the race. What we ought to rehash is the gallant performance that followed it where he rallied from hopelessly out of it, fighting against a front-running track bias that permeated the day following heavy rains, to actually get into contention at the top of the stretch within hailing distance of the leaders causing NBC racecaller Larry Collmus to remark, "Could he be this good?" Yes, he eventually flattened out to finish sixth, but the excellence of his performance should not be overlooked. He again showed the heart of a champion in defeat that day.
One of the first major hurdles for Animal Kingdom to overcome to get back to the races has been navigated as of today. Animal Kingdom was ridden under tack today at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, according to trainer Graham Motion. It is the first time Animal Kingdom has had a rider on his back since getting back to training during the late summer. Motion says he is inclined to remain at Fair Hill until sometime in the winter, maybe around December, before heading to Palm Meadows in Florida and warmer climates.
All in all, this is outstanding news for racing fans everywhere. There is always something special attached to the Kentucky Derby every year and when he (or she) disappears for a long stretch, like has happened this year, something goes missing from the racing game. It will be a banner day for racing when Animal Kingdom steps back on to the track, with his rider wearing the familiar green and red silks of Team Valor. The news today means that we are getting closer and closer to seeing that return to the races and that can only be a good thing.
Tune in again on Thursday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!