Animal Kingdom’s win is big for U.S. racing

April 5, 2013

When Animal Kingdom won the Dubai World Cup by two-and-a-half lengths this past Saturday night, there was a collective sigh of relief from the American horse racing community.

Since Cigar and Soul of the Matter finished first and second at the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996, American horses have dominated the event. Indeed, up until 2009, eight of the race's fourteen winners had been American horses.

Recently however, from 2009 until this year's victory by Animal Kingdom, American horses have struggled at the World Cup.

One difficulty which potential U.S. entrants have long had to surmount is simply the location.  American racehorses must be flown literally halfway around the world to compete. Although quarantine regulations have been significantly relaxed, dehydration nevertheless remains an issue for such horses.

Another factor is that American horses are not able to use Lasix, a decoagulent drug that while popular in United States horse racing during the past three decades, is not used in international competition.

Although the Breeders' Cup this year became the first U.S. race to ban Lasix, the policy is more an exception than the rule in America. In a previous story reported on by The Daily Sports Herald, the new ban caused certain issues among the horses running in that event.

Furthermore, during the years when American horses were winning the bulk of the races, the Dubai World Cup was run at Ned Al Sheba, an intriguing triangular-shaped racecourse that had a dirt track. But when the Dubai World Cup was moved to the purpose-built Medan in 2010, it featured a synthetic Tapeta surface.

When I covered the Dubai World Cup in 2012, I had the opportunity to walk the track and to compare it to the dirt surfaces found on American tracks. The surface, dusty and dry in the Dubai heat, felt as if I was walking on a dirt-covered trampoline. Undoubtedly, such a track could affect American horses, who tend to pound on the dirt surfaces at their home tracks.

Animal Kingdom is now one of a handful of horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup. The win is an important one for a horse whose career has been stifled by injury at times.

Animal Kingdom is destined for a stud career with stables in the United States and Australia. While these deals are already signed, there remains one more chance at glory.

On April 6th, he was flown from Dubai to England where he could make his final start at the Royal Ascot in June. If he were to do so, Animal Kingdom would become the first ever winner of the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby to race in the Royal Ascot. The last Kentucky Derby winner to appear at the Royal Ascot was Omaha in 1936.

By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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