BALTIMORE — Everything went right for Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby, and he enjoyed a charmed experience for two weeks at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., in preparation for the Preakness and a shot at the Triple Crown.
But one misstep Saturday cost Animal Kingdom dearly as he struggled out of the starting gate and experienced a troubled trip en route to a second-place finish to Shackleford in the Preakness — and the end of this year’s Triple Crown hopes.
“He broke so far back that as soon as the dirt hit him, it was hitting him in his face, so he reacted by it right away,” jockey John Velazquez said.
By the end of the race, Velazquez had no goggles left, analyst and former jockey Gary Stevens said. And unlike the Kentucky Derby, when Animal Kingdom and Velazquez cruised to victory, the dirt hit the horse in the face and not his chest — derailing his afternoon at Pimlico.
Animal Kingdom — who went off as the 2-1 favorite — was second-to-last very early, with only Dialed In behind him. Velazquez bided his time and got through and past 11 other horses to make a run at it, but fell short.
“I got my spot and pulled him out and by the quarter pole I thought I might’ve had a chance, but I think it was a little too much to make up,” he said.
Trainer Graham Motion said Velazquez did an unbelievable job guiding Animal Kingdom following the rough start and blamed a slow pace in the middle of the race for not being able to maintain a path to history.
“He ran huge,” Motion said. “I was hoping we were gonna get there, but it looked like he almost needed another sixteenth [of a mile]. But he ran a huge race. [Shackleford] kinda slowed it down in the middle of the race and I think that hurt us.”
The Preakness at 1 3-16 miles is one-sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby. Animal Kingdom wound up just a half-length back of Shackleford at the wire.
History will have to wait. For the 33rd straight year, horse racing will not have a Triple Crown winner. But Motion praised his horse and jockey at length despite the loss.
“I would love to win a Triple Crown, as much for me as for everybody else. There’s so much pressure to do that because it would be so good for the game,” he admitted. “But it wasn’t meant to be. … If it wasn’t for the fact that it was the Triple Crown, you’d be thrilled that he ran so well.”
Instead, fans are left without a Triple Crown possibility at the Belmont Stakes. But with Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans, saying he’d have to “seriously consider” the race, a rematch between the winners of the Derby and Preakness could spark some interest.
“[It] definitely will be a possibility, as long as he’s OK,” Motion said. “If he comes out of this one the way he came out of the Derby, I don’t know why we wouldn’t take a shot.”
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