Animal Kingdom gave jockey John Velazquez and trainer Graham Motion their first Kentucky Derby wins amid a series of missteps.
Velazquez was a last-minute substitute aboard the 3-year-old colt in the 137th running of the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. Jockey Robby Albarado lost the ride when he sustained a broken nose after he was bucked off during a post parade and was kicked in the face.
Velazquez was searching for a mount for the third straight year after coming to Churchill Downs prepared to ride one of the favorites. His original ride this year was Uncle Mo, withdrawn the day before the Derby because of virus. Quality Road in 2009 and Eskendereya in 2010 were pulled because of injuries.
“For once, I’m on the good end of it,” said Velazquez, who secured his first win in 13 rides. “All of a sudden I pick up this one and he wins the Derby, so it was meant to be.”
Barry Irwin, the spokesman for Animal Kingdom’s ownership group, said he was thinking of Team Valor International’s 20 partners when he decided to change jockeys.
“Robby has won a lot of races for us,” he said. “We got a large investment and I had to do what I thought was in the best interest of the partnership.”
Irwin also had changed trainers, bringing in Motion.
“I was tired of other trainers lying to me,” Irwin said. “I just wanted someone to tell me the truth.”
Animal Kingdom, making his debut on a dirt track, emerged from 12th place and surged past the front-runners in the 19-horse field at the Louisville, Kentucky, track.
The colt covered the 1 ¼-mile track in 2 minutes, 2.04 seconds and crossed the finish line 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Nehro. Mucho Macho Man was third.
Velazquez may have to decide whether he will ride Animal Kingdom or Uncle Mo in the 136th Preakness Stakes on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
“I think I’m going to cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.
Motion, who saw his chances of having a Derby winner this year fade when Toby’s Corner was scratched with an injury, called his first victory in three tries “extraordinary.”
“This horse was so powerful today,” he said. “I didn’t know if he could handle the switch over to dirt.”
Animal Kingdom, leaving the starting gate at 20-1 odds, returned $43.80, $19.60 and $13 on a $2 bet. Nehro paid $8.80 and $6.40 and Mucho Macho Man returned $7.
Dialed In, the favorite trained by Nick Zito, finished eighth, while Stay Thirsty, the stablemate of Uncle Mo owned by New York businessman Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, came in 12th.
A record crowd of 164,858 watched the races at Churchill Downs.