After America’s richest race, the Kentucky Derby, was run yesterday, it was 20-1 shot Animal Kingdom who proved to be the best of the talented field.
The three-year-old overtook the leaders at the home turn and blitzed down the middle of the Churchill Downs’ home straight to win the Group 1 race.
Winning connection Barry Irwin was not at all surprised when his colt crossed the line first.
While many punters and horse racing analysts did not rate Animal Kingdom as much of a chance due to his inexperience on dirt tracks, Mr Irwin was never worried.
“This getting hung up on no turf horses have ever done this, or no synthetic horses have ever done this, that kind of stuff,” said Irwin.
“All that stuff to me is nonsense.
“The only thing that counts is what has this horse done, and how has he trained, and what do the connections think of him?
“And with this horse, there were nothing but positives.”
Animal Kingdom’s Derby win came as sweet redemption for Mr Irwin, who had missed out on victory in this race before with Captain Bodgit in 1997.
“In 1997, when we ran Captain Bodgit, he was favored,” Irwin said.
“I had utter confidence in the horse. I really did not think he would lose.
“And it was a tough race for me but I was hoping I would be back again and be able to win it, and it happened.”
Animal Kingdom is bred from international stayers that have raced in Germany, France, Brazil and North America.
Mr Irwin believes international breeding makes for a much sturdier and stronger horse in the long run.
“I’ve always liked international racing, even when I was a turf writer,” Mr Irwin said.
“I’m the kind of guy that gets bored easily, I need a lot of different things to do.
“Following international racing is a lot of fun, and I also think that we have not done enough importing of horses and blood lines from other places where horses don’t run on drugs and horses’ legs are not manipulated.
“Horses basically are bigger, tougher, stronger and sounder.”
Jockey John Velazquez was lucky enough to be given the ride on Animal Kingdom after the horse’s regular jockey, Robby Albarado, broke his nose.
“He (Albarado) told me he was a very good horse,” Velazquez said.
“When I asked him to run, it was amazing.
“I knew we were gone.”
Velazquez said he was overcome with happiness after winning the Kentucky Derby, but also felt bad for Robby Albarado.
“It’s words that you can’t describe,” Velazquez said.
“But I do really feel really bad for Robby. I hope he’s winning the Derby with me here.
“I know he got hurt so this is for both of us, buddy.
“I know you’re not on it, but I know you’re with me.”
Animal Kingdom won the 2,000 metre Kentucky Derby in a time of 2 minutes and 2.04 seconds.