“I hope he gets a chance this year to show
what a super horse he is.”
–Trainer Graham Motion on Animal Kingdom
Last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Eclipse Award champion Animal Kingdom, Force Freeze, runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and Grade 1 winner Her Smile return to action this weekend at Gulfstream Park.
Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom makes his highly anticipated comeback in Saturday’s 5th race, an $80,000 optional claiming/allowance event for non-winners of three races other than maiden, claiming or starter, over 1 1/16 miles on the turf. On the same card, Force Freeze, winner of last year’s Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park, will headline the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2).
There has been much speculation as to when and where Animal Kingdom would make his first start of the year. The son of Stonewall Farm Ocala sire Leroidesanimaux (BRZ) was nominated to the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 25. But this week trainer Graham Motion, based at Palm Meadows, entered his charge in Saturday’s race at Gulfstream to remain close to home.
“I’m very excited to get him back, and now that we’ve entered him I’m extremely anxious,” Motion said. “I have been pleasantly surprised how quickly he’s come around. I think he got a good base in him at Fair Hill before he came down here. Once he got down here we’ve gotten some serious works on the grass.
“I believe he is a special horse that did not get to show how good he was, and I hope he gets that chance this year.”
Animal Kingdom is familiar with Gulfstream’s turf course, having finished second over it last year in a turf allowance prior to capturing Turfway Park’s Spiral Stakes (G3) and the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom has not raced since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on a sloppy track on June 11. In that race, he suffered a hairline fracture to his left hock (the joint between the gaskin and the cannon bone in a horse’s rear leg).
Post time for Animal Kingdom’s race Saturday is 2:30 p.m. Motion is viewing the effort as a prep for a scheduled start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) on March 31 at Meydan in the United Arab Emirates.
“This is just a start, but it doesn’t all have to happen this weekend,” said Motion. “But I hope he gets a chance this year to show what a super horse he is.”
In the 10th race on Saturday, Force Freeze will take on seven rivals in the seven-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship. Runner-up in the BC Sprint, Force Freeze raced in Dubai in 2010 and early last year before joining trainer Peter Walder’s string at Monmouth Park.
“My only concern is the distance, particularly coming off the layoff,” Walder said. “Seven furlongs can be a tricky distance, but Paco (Lopez) is very confident in wont’ be a problem. He can run with any horse in the country at six furlongs. I’m excited to have him back.”
A 7-year-old son of Forest Camp, Force Freeze is owned by Saeed Naser Al Romaithi.
Her Smile, winner of last year’s Prioress Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park for celebrity chef Bobby Flay and trainer Todd Pletcher, is set to resume her afternoon activity on Sunday in the $150,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G3) for new owner Frank Stronach and trainer Chad Brown.
Her Smile was last seen finishing third behind Musical Romance in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs. Stronach bought the daughter of Include from Flay for $1 million at the Keeneland November sale following the Breeders’ Cup. Javier Castellano has been named to ride Sunday.
“She’s trained great,” said Brown earlier this week. “I’m really looking forward to running her. I think we’ll keep her in one-turn races this year.”
Her Smile spent some time last winter at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing 4th in the Florida Oaks and 3rd in the Suncoast Stakes while in the barn of Leigh Delacour.