Animal Kingdom, ridden by John Valazquez, owned by racing partnership Team Valor International and trained by Graham Motion took the first jewel in the Triple Crown on Saturday, May 7, 2011, at Churchill Downs. He finished in 2:02:04.
Valazquez is considered one of the top jockeys in the industry and is a finalist for the Hall of Fame. He was scheduled to ride early Kentucky Derby favorite, Uncle Mo, this year who was scratched early Friday morning due to a gastrointestinal infection. So, Velazquez was looking for a new horse to ride. Twist of fate, or whatever the reason, Velazquez rode Animal Kingdom to Victory on May 7th!
Breaking from the No. 16 post, Animal Kingdom sat four lengths off the lead heading into the first turn. Valazquez didn't have much time to prep with the colt but he turned out to be a quick study.
Valazquez was quoted as saying that he had a sense he'd be in the mix as he rode down the opening stretch. "He gave me so much confidence going into that first turn ... it's like you have the horse to get out of trouble and get to the spot you want," Valazquez recalled. "And when I asked him to run, he was there for me. It's a feeling you can't describe."
Animal Kingdom became the first horse in the 137-year history of the Derby to win in his debut on dirt, having run three times on synthetic surfaces and once on the turf in his four previous races.
Before the race, trainer Graham Motion kept the instructions as simple as possible: Stay out of trouble, don't give up too much ground, save him for a push at the end.
Animal Kingdom, 3-year-old chestnut colt will be going on to the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, on May 21. The colt will stay at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton and trainer Graham Motion wants to keep jockey John Velazquez on his colt for the Preakness.