The winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and the $10 million Dubai World Cup this year is to be retired to stud after running in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.
“Royal Ascot is a bonus for me because I thought Dubai was his last race,” trainer Graham Motion said. “I feel very fortunate that (the owners) have taken on this very sporting challenge at Royal Ascot.
“In the States, we have a lot of opportunities for easy pickings so it’s more of a sporting challenge to come here. It would be a shot in the arm for America if he was to win at Royal Ascot.”
Victory, though, will not come easy for Animal Kingdom, the odds-on favorite by British bookmakers. Accustomed to racing on dirt and on a left-turn track, he will have to contend with the up-and-down nature of Ascot’s famous straight mile.
“Animal Kingdom is a very good horse, but this will be a different game for him,” said Patrick Barbe, racing manager for Animal Kingdom’s biggest rival, Elusive Kate.
A second win abroad will clearly boost the injury-prone horse’s value as a stallion. It will also be a milestone for Motion, who is based in the U.S. but was brought up 6 miles from the racing hotbed of Newmarket in England.
Motion’s boyhood hero was Henry Cecil, one of Britain’s greatest trainers who died last week of cancer. Cecil won a record 75 races on this track – including Frankel’s sensational 11-length victory in the Queen Anne Stakes in 2012 – and will be honored during the five-day meet that starts Tuesday.
“It’s tremendous to be running in a race that Frankel won last year and Sir Henry Cecil was one of the people I admired the most when growing up in Newmarket, so it’s quite emotional,” Motion said.
A minute’s silence will be held for Cecil on Tuesday after the arrival of the royal procession in the parade ring. Friday’s Queen’s Vase race, won a record eight times by Cecil, will be titled “The Queen’s Vase In Memory of Sir Henry Cecil.” Jockeys riding in that race will wear black armbands.
Last year, unbeaten Black Caviar ran at Ascot for her first appearance outside Australia, winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes for her 22nd straight win. She was retired this year with a 25-0 record.
Estimate, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, was the winner of the Queen’s Vase last year. This time, the filly will be running in Thursday’s Gold Cup, the meet’s feature race. The queen is seeking a 22nd win at Royal Ascot.
The meet, with total prize money of $7.9 million, also marks the return to racing of Dawn Approach. The Godolphin horse won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May before flopping in the English Derby this month over a longer distance. Dawn Approach is running in the St. James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday.
“Hopefully, Dawn Approach can reproduce his Guineas effort,” said Simon Crisford, racing manager of Godolphin.