View from connections: Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot
Last Updated: 18/06/13 8:12am
Animal Kingdom: Extremely versatile
The waiting is nearly over for connections of Animal Kingdom, with the superstar American raider all set to follow the lead of Frankel and dazzle in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Last year, Frankel was the astonishingly short 1/10 favourite for the opening race of the five-day meeting and while Animal Kingdom will be nothing like that price, he is expected to get the Royal jamboree off to the perfect start for punters and purists alike.
Victorious in the Kentucky Derby two years ago and winner of the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in March, the Graham Motion-trained Animal Kingdom will be the first winner of the Churchill Downs showpiece to run at this fixture since the 1930s.
Motion, who has expressed his view that Animal Kingdom is "probably a short price for what we are doing", is relishing the challenge on a route planned by Team Valor chief Barry Irwin and Australian John Messara.
The latter's Arrowfield Stud bought into the colt following his close second to another crack American horse, Wise Dan, at the Breeders' Cup in November.
Cambridge-born, American-based Motion said: "We're not ducking anybody and it's admirable that John and Barry 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.
"I'll never train another one like him. The horse has had a chequered career because of his injuries so it is all the more remarkable how he has kept his form.
"I was concerned the day we worked him at Ascot recently because there had been quite a bit of rain and it was very soft by our standards but he seemed to handle it very well.
"Barry and I had talked before about coming to Royal Ascot but it wasn't until the horse won the Dubai World Cup that we really decided to come here. What he did in winning the Kentucky Derby was pretty extraordinary - he had never run on the dirt before and he ran with six weeks between races.
"Coming back in the Breeders' Cup Mile without a prep race is not usually done in America and we almost pulled it off. For me personally, I wanted to have an opportunity to prove the Kentucky Derby wasn't a fluke. I knew this horse was a very special horse and I'm just so glad we got the chance to prove it in the Breeders' Cup and then on the international stage in the Dubai World Cup.
"Royal Ascot is a bonus for me because I thought Dubai was his last race. I feel very fortunate that these guys have taken on this very sporting challenge at Royal Ascot.
"It was the end of a long-term plan to get there. In America, people have been sceptical about the horse because he is so lightly raced but he has missed a lot with injuries.
"In the States we have a lot of opportunities for easy pickings so it's more of a sporting challenge to come here. It would be a shot in the arm for America if he was to win at Royal Ascot. There has been quite a lot of interest at home and the New York Times is coming over to cover the race, which is unusual.
"It's tremendous to be running in a race that Frankel won last year and Sir Henry Cecil was one of the people I admired the most when growing up in Newmarket so it's quite emotional."
Irwin said: "Animal Kingdom is extremely versatile, he's 16.2 hands and he's powerful. To be top-class like him on synthetics, dirt and turf - well, that just doesn't happen. But I think that if these horses have a good mind and constitution then they can adapt.
"I was apprehensive when I saw the straight mile at Ascot but I feel more comfortable after seeing him work at the course and in Lambourn."
Messara, whose son Paul had a very successful time with Ortensia in Britain last year, said: "We have announced his fee for Australia and mares have been booked for the southern hemisphere season. The present intention is to retire him after this race. But I never say never about these things. We've also got partners in the horse.
"Winning at Royal Ascot is one of those bucket list issues for me to do and I feel very privileged to be here with the favourite for the first race of the first day. My son brought a horse to race here before and I'm pleased to be back."
Leading the opposition is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Declaration Of War, although he must bounce back from a disappointing fifth place in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, having been the short-price favourite.
Prior to that the War Front colt had been progressive, winning over a mile on his return to action in a Listed race at Leopardstown in April.
O'Brien told At The Races: "I think we learned quite a lot at Newbury. He won his Group race (at Dundalk) over a mile and a quarter and we always thought he was going to get that trip, but then he showed us a lot more speed than we thought (he had).
"Maybe we did the wrong thing in the Lockinge. There was a mad pace and maybe I hadn't (got) him fit enough. We still think he's an exciting horse and it's just to find out what his correct trip is now. The way he's training, he might even have to go back shorter than a mile.
"He's a big, powerful horse and an unbelievable specimen. He has a lot of speed."
A second stern challenge to Animal Kingdom could come from the filly Elusive Kate, trained by John Gosden and who 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."
Michael Bell's Sovereign Debt outran his odds when a fourth-length second to Farhh in the Lockinge.
Bell said: "He's in very good form and it was a good run at Newbury. We've always thought he was very good and he thoroughly deserves his place in a race like the Queen Anne. Some of his best form is at Ascot so we are looking forward to it."
Trade Storm was campaigned in Dubai during the early part of the year, recording two wins and finishing a close fourth in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.
His trainer David Simcock told BCS TV: "I'm really happy with him, he's in good health and he's showing all the right signs. He'll be going there in very good order, whether he's good enough we'll have to wait and see.
"He trained very well in Dubai, the whole routine suited him. He was very progressive and we were actually delighted finishing fourth on World Cup night. He's going the right way.
"We've always been hopeful he'd make up into a nice horse. I'm not worried that his best form is abroad.
"There's a very fine line between top end handicapper and Group Three horses. Take Animal Kingdom out and there's not a lot between the rest."