Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom cleared his final pre-Belmont Stakes hurdle Monday morning, working 4 furlongs in company in :47.76 over the main track at Belmont with jockey John Velazquez up.
The chestnut colt, who is coming off a runner-up effort to Shackleford in the Preakness Stakes, recorded fractions of 24.18, 47.76, 1:00.06, and 1:14.38 with ease that impressed his connections.
"He was halfway running off with me," Velazquez said. "I took him as slowly as I could. He got very competitive with the other horse. After he passed him after the wire, he kept galloping very strong. He knew he had the jockey on top of him because he just played with me.
"I wanted to put him behind the other horse, and I was almost clipping heels galloping to the pole, and I had to bring him to the outside of him, and he got very strong galloping. I let the other horse start out a little bit in front of me, and he sat off for about a sixteenth, eighth of a mile, and he got into the bridle again."
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Trainer Graham Motion and Barry Irwin, founder of owner Team Valor, were both on hand for the work and what they saw only enhanced their confidence that Animal Kingdom has handled the rigors of the Triple Crown trail.
"(Velazquez) didn't ask him at all. He did it all on his own," Motion said. "That's why I only wanted to go a half with him because I figured he'd gallop out pretty strong. He just hasn't changed. He's remarkable. He's taking everything in his stride, and he hasn't gotten worked up about it. ... He couldn't have been more laid back. That's what's impressed me."
Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro also had his final Belmont tune-up on Monday, working 4 furlongs in :50.88 over the main track.
"I thought he worked great; it was just exactly what the boss wanted," said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. "We were very pleased with him. He came back good, so onward and upward."
Prime Cut to Belmont
Donald A. Adam's Prime Cut, third in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes and runner-up in the Grade II Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland, will head to New York on Tuesday for a run in Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes following a strong 5-furlong work on Monday at Churchill Downs.
The 3-year-old son of Bernstein, working in company with 4-year-old stablemate Mine Train, covered the distance over a fast track in 1:01. Exercise rider Dane Noel was in the irons as Prime Cut started 2 lengths behind his workmate and finished on even terms after fractional splits of :25 and :37. Prime Cut galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:14.20.
Trainer Neil Howard described the work as "excellent" and said it earned the colt a trip to Belmont Park for Saturday's final jewel of the Triple Crown.
"We made the decision the other day that we'd go ahead and run, pending everything going good through this week," Howard said. "He's doing good. We don't feel like we've pushed or reached too much with him, and he's got a nice prep over Belmont. So we kind of left it that we'd go ahead if everything went well this morning, and it did."