Before Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Animal Kingdom had never run on a true dirt surface. The three-year-old had run on turf and synthetic tracks, but was making his debut on the legendary dirt track in Kentucky, making him a wildcard ahead of the race. And with 20/1 odds, it was clear the handicappers and betting public alike had little faith in the horse that soon beame the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner.
But should it have come as a surprise that Animal Kingdom ran so well at Churchill Downs. Despite the unknowns -- Animal Kingdom has been racing for less than a year and had only run four races before Saturday -- he had run well every time out on the track. As And Down The Stretch They Come's Matt Gardner pointed out, it should come as no surprise Animal Kingdom ran well, and well enough to win the Kentucky Derby.
Four races, four different tracks, three Polytrack surfaces, one turf race...and in all four races Animal Kingdom ran credibly. The transfer of that form to the dirt of Churchill Downs was certainly something to ponder, but this colt proved (once again) that he can handle a wide variety of racing circumstances.
Going forward, Animal Kingdom's versatility should come in handy. With the next leg Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes ahead, Animal Kingdom's ability to run different distances and on a variety of surfaces can easily be seen as a positive. He might not be a favorite to win the Triple Crown, a rare feat in the world of horse racing, but he does have a chance each time out, it would appear.
In addition to his previous results, Gardner also took a look at Animal Kingdom's pedigree to project how he might do at Pimlico and Belmont, the final two races of the Triple Crown.
Pedigree-wise, we should expect Animal Kingdom to fare well at Pimlico, and he should absolutely love the mile and a half at Belmont. Additionally, he now owns graded stakes win over both dirt and synthetic surfaces and he ran well in his only try on grass, finishing second by a head.
Versatility and a deadly finishing kick seem like a combination for success, and the two worked in tandem for Animal Kingdom on Saturday. Whether it will pay-off with a Triple Crown win remains to be seen, but if Animal Kingdom can get past the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont seems to fit his eye.
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.