Churchill Downs Backside Consensus: It's Animal KIngdom

May 21, 2011 Gary Yunt and Travers Manley

CHURCHILL CONSENSUS HAS ANIMAL KINGDOM RULING IN MARYLAND – A lot of trainers on the Churchill Downs backstretch got a good look at Animal Kingdom in the week he was here prior to winning the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on May 7. And, it is those observations and the colt’s stellar run to victory that have many predicting a victory this afternoon at Pimlico in the 136thrunning of the $1 million Preakness (GI), the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

            “I am not a bandwagon jumper,” trainer Paul McGee said. “I liked him before the Derby and I bet on him at 20-1 and I’ll bet on him today at 2-1.”

            Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger was solidly in Animal Kingdom’s corner.

            “If he handles the dirt again the way he did here and wins, I think you are going to have a Triple Crown winner,” Nafzger said.

            Veteran Churchill Downs conditioner Steve Penrod, 20th all time at the track with 245 victories, is confident in an Animal Kingdom repeat. “He’ll have to do something to beat himself,” Penrod said.

            “I don’t see anything in there that can improve enough to beat him,” trainerScooter Dickey said of Animal Kingdom.

            “I am going to stick with Animal Kingdom until he proves otherwise,” said Jack Bohannan, assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold. “I was very impressed with his race here.”

            Trainer Steve Margolis, who shares part of Barn 22 with trainer Graham Motion and where Animal Kingdom was housed at Churchill Downs, is hoping for a repeat performance from the Derby winner.

“I’d like to see Graham win and also (assistant trainer) Heather (Craig), because we are friends with them,” Margolis said. “But, if Kathy Ritvo wins (with Mucho MachoMan), that would be a great story.”

Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark Casse, also is in Animal Kingdom’s corner, but said, “You know who I would really like to see win? Shackleford.”

Tom Amoss, currently in the top spot with Dale Romans with seven victories this meet, wants to see Animal Kingdom repeat his Derby run.

            “He was very strong here and he handled the dirt well, but the question you have to ask is whether a turf horse can repeat that,” Amoss said. “If you are looking for a couple of horses that could pull an upset, look at Mucho Macho Man and MidnightInterlude. Midnight Interlude trained well here before the Derby and for some reason, if he didn’t fire in the Derby.”

            There were a few dissenting voices to the Animal Kingdom bandwagon.

            “I like Shackleford,” trainer Jim Baker said. “He’s been looking pretty darn good and I know (trainer) Dale (Romans) is high on him. I think he is going to run a big race like he did in the Florida Derby.”

            Buff Bradley, trainer of $2 million earner Brass Hat, cast his lot with Mucho Macho Man, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby.

            “I have been following him for a long time,” Bradley said. “And knowing (trainer) Kathy Ritvo, he is going to be fit.”

            Another trainer in the Mucho Macho Man corner is Forrest Kaelin.

            “He was running hard at the end of the Derby and almost got second,” said Kaelin, who ranks 10th all time in Churchill Downs victories with 322. “I think there will be more pace today and if there is, I expect a different outcome.

            Only one trainer cast his lot with Kentucky Derby favorite Dialed In, who finished eighth two weeks ago. “I think Dialed In will run a lot better than he did here,” trainer Ian Wilkes said.

TWO YEARS AGO, BOREL AND RACHEL ALEXANDRA RODE INTO HISTORY –When the horses come on the track at Pimlico this afternoon for the Preakness, Calvin Borel will have just ridden his 11th race of the day at Churchill Downs.

            “I was there last year and here this year,” said Borel, who caught lightning in a bottle at Old Hilltop two years ago with the brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra.

Borel gladly looked back Friday afternoon at that sunny Maryland afternoon when Rachel Alexandra held off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness.

“It was beautiful,” Borel said with a wide smile. “She was something special and I had no concerns going into the race. I know they all get beat, but I was very confident.”

Rachel Alexandra was coming off a record 20 ¼-length victory 15 days earlier in the Kentucky Oaks under Borel, who came back the next day to win the Derby on Mine That Bird. For the Preakness, the eventual Horse of the Year drew the outside No. 13 post position that proved to be a plus for Borel.

“That was perfect and allowed the race to unfold perfectly for us,” said Borel, who had Rachel Alexandra in the clear all through the 1 3/16-mile race and had enough left to turn back the challenge of Mine That Bird, who won the Derby at odds of 50-1.

“I knew that was him coming,” Borel said. “I looked under my arm and saw those black and silver silks. I was glad to see him get second because it showed his Derby was not a fluke.”    

GENERAL QUARTERS CLOSE TO RETURN — One of the “feel good” stories of the 2009 Kentucky Derby was the emergence of Tom McCarthy and General Quarters, his one horse stable.

             Fast forward two years and the next chapter of the story is close to being written as the 77-year-old McCarthy is cranking up General Quarters for his 2011 debut.

“He’s about two weeks away from a race,” said McCarthy, who is stabled at Churchill Downs with the two horses he owns. “I’ll have to check out the condition book and we’ll find something for him soon.”

The 5-year-old son of Sky Mesa, who captured the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) here last May, was being pointed to a start in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup World Championships held on his home track.              

 About two weeks prior to his planned prep race in the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) at Keeneland, General Quarters suffered a minor injury to his left front leg during training hours at Churchill Downs.

McCarthy, who learned the importance of patience and perseverance during his years as a high school principal, has taken his time preparing the four-time winner for his comeback. General Quarters, who began his career in a $20,000 maiden-claiming race at Churchill Downs nearly three years ago, is fully recovered and displays a steady work tab at Churchill Downs. McCarthy is confident that his horse is fit and ready to run.

“Just look at him,” said McCarthy, as he pointed to General Quarters, winner of last year’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course and the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack course.  “He looks good.”

Immediate plans following a Churchill Downs start for the Kentucky-bred millionaire are undecided, but a start in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup is the prime target.

“The Breeders’ Cup is the goal,” McCarthy said. “But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In this game, you can be on top of the world one minute and on the bottom the next.”


BARN TALK – Golden Rod (GII) winner Kathmanblu, sixth to Plum Pretty in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) on May 6, worked five furlongs before the Saturday morning renovation break in 1:00.80 over a fast track.  The move was eighth fastest of 39 at the distance. Trainer Ken McPeek has targeted the $250,000 Mother Goose (GI) on June 25 at Belmont Park as the next start for Kathmanblu. …

           Corey Lanerie rode three winners on the Friday card to move into second place in the jockey standings with 11 victories, two fewer than Shaun Bridgmohan. Lanerie has 256 victories in his career at Churchill Downs, which is one behind John McKee for 21st all time. …

Manny Cruz celebrated his 41st birthday in style Friday afternoon by riding two winners, both for trainer Ken McPeek. The victories were the first of the meet for McPeek, who has 269 career victories at Churchill Downs, 18th best all time and two behind Henry Forrest, who is 17th with 271 victories that include two Kentucky Derby triumphs. …

Jockey Rusty Shaw picked up his first Churchill Downs victory in the Friday nightcap by guiding Gratitat to a front-running score for trainer James Kirk. The victory came on Shaw’s first mount of the meet and 10th career ride beneath the Twin Spires under which he rode for the first time in 2010. …

Nominations close today for the 37th running of the $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the main track and for the 23rd running of the $100,000-added Aristides (GIII) for sprinters going six furlongs on the main track. Both races will be run on Saturday, June 4. Ailalea won the 2010 Dogwood and Riley Tucker the 2010 Aristides.


WORK TAB – Dundalk Dust, winner of last November’s Falls City Handicap (GII) worked a half-mile in :48 for trainer Chris Block. Graded stakes winner Custom forCarlos worked a half-mile in :47.40, the third fastest of 62 at the distance, for trainerEddie Kenneally. Pool Play, runner-up in the Elkhorn (GII) at Keeneland in his most recent start, worked five furlongs in 1:02.60. Norman Casse, assistant to trainer Mark Casse, said Pool Play, who is nominated to next Saturday’s Louisville Handicap (GIII), would be pointed to the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18. “He has always run well on the dirt and he needs a lot of pace to run at,” Casse said. “We feel like there will be more opportunities for that on the dirt.”

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