- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ELKTON, Md. | For Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby was a chance to see what the horse could do against the best 3-year-old colts in the country. When he won the coveted first jewel of the Triple Crown, it meant a chance for trainer H. Graham Motion to come home sweet home for the Preakness.

That’s where Animal Kingdom and Motion are now, working out at Fair Hill Training Center in preparation for the May 21 race at Pimlico in Baltimore. Motion is based at Fair Hill in northern Maryland and is just beginning to enjoy the comforts of home.

“He’s a pretty easygoing horse; it’s a very relaxed environment,” Motion said Wednesday, the first day Animal Kingdom breezed on the track in Elkton.

Animal Kingdom, who arrived at Fair Hill late Tuesday afternoon and jogged about a mile at 8:30 Wednesday morning, is getting his first taste of the place that Motion calls home. But the proximity to Pimlico (a shade over 60 miles) could be important for Animal Kingdom in the quest to be the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to capture the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

“I do think it’s an advantage for us — for the equines and the humans,” Motion said. “It’s nice that he’s going to stay where he is and stay where he’s comfortable; other horses are going to have to get used to their surroundings.”

While it’s subject to change, Animal Kingdom isn’t expected to ship to Baltimore for the 136th Preakness until next Friday, just a day before the race. But Motion, who worked for years at Laurel Park, knows Maryland racing well and likes the familiarity of being at Fair Hill for preparation.

“It’s like any athlete: You’d rather be at home than on the road,” he said.

So Animal Kingdom will continue to get some work on the Fair Hill track leading up to his second big day in the spotlight.

Motion said workouts this week likely will continue to be light, given that Animal Kingdom just won the Derby a handful of days before and endured an 11-hour van ride from Louisville, Ky. Thursday is set to be “another easy day with a couple of light gallops,” Motion said. Harder work could start as early as Friday.

The Kentucky Derby was Animal Kingdom’s first race on dirt, and the colt proved himself more than up to the task. Before that race, save for one workout, he hadn’t ever breezed on an actual dirt surface after running exclusively on turf and synthetic tracks in four previous starts.

And while it’s impossible to predict how Animal Kingdom will respond on dirt in his second opportunity, Motion sees only one big change from last Saturday at Churchill Downs: timing.

“The only thing that’s different about this race is it comes two weeks after he won the biggest race of his life,” Motion said.

At least for the next biggest race, Animal Kingdom will have something of an advantage being close to home.

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