There were few at Churchill Downs, or anywhere, that thought Animal Kingdom would wind-up in the winner's circle with the garland of roses at the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom was unproven, untested and a long-shot in every sense of the word, but sometimes it's the unknowns that surprise. And that was the case on Saturday as Animal Kingdom shot down the home-stretch in front of a roaring crowd to break the wire in first and win the Kentucky Derby.
Coming into the race, Animal Kingdom had only run four times before. And of those four, he only broke the wire first twice, making him an unknown quantity in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had yet to run on dirt, the surface at Churchill Downs, as well, only running races on turf and a synthetic surface. There was an adjustment to be made, and nobody was quite sure how he'd handle it.
Even Animal Kingdom's jockey had a tumultuous week at the Derby. Jockey John Valazquez has a history of bad luck at the Kentucky Derby, losing race favorites in each of the past three years. 2011 was no exception as Valazquez lost his derby horse, Uncle Mo, just one day before the race. But an injury to Robby Albarado, who was scheduled to ride Animal Kingdom in the derby, gave Valazquez a window of opportunity, and he took advantage.
Valazquez rode an excellent race about Animal Kingdom, biding his time before making a move as the field broke for the home-stretch. Valazquez found a small pocket of light between three horses, splitting them and bolting for daylight as the finish line neared. As they came down the stretch, Animal Kingdom gobbled-up Nehro and Shackleford to take the lead, extending it as they approached the wire. And with one final kick, Animal Kingdom broke the wire, taking the Kentucky Derby title, and first leg of the Triple Crown, at 20-1 odds.
With the Kentucky Derby over, it's time for a look back at the week at Churchill Downs. Stay with our 2011 Kentucky Derby StoryStream for more on the race, including full results, recaps and payouts. For more on the race, head over to SB Nation's Kentucky Derby StoryStream or check out And Down The Stretch They Come.