The drought for America in the Dubai World Cup came to an end March 30 when champion Animal Kingdom burst clear in the homestretch for a spectacular score at Meydan Racecourse.
Joel Rosario rode the 2011 Kentucky Derby victor to a 2 1/2-length triumph in the $10 million event -- the world's richest horse race -- for trainer Graham Motion and owners Arrowfield Stud and Team Valor International.
Australia also shares in this World Cup victory with a majority interest in the 5-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux, who was purchased by John Messara's Aussie-based Arrowfield from Barry Irwin's Team Valor last December. Animal Kingdom is to begin his stud career later this year in Australia. Team Valor, which retained a minor interest following the sale, bred Animal Kingdom in Kentucky. He is out of the German mare Dalicia, by Acatenango.
Since 2010, when the World Cup relocated to Meydan and its Tapeta racing surface, no American-based horse had been in the top three finishers in the international event.
Animal Kingdom, forwardly placed on the outside of pacesetter Royal Delta in the 2,000-meter test (about 1 1/4 miles), took the lead rounding the final turn and opened up a daylight advantage in upper stretch. Well clear down the lane, he finished willingly as 55-1 Red Cadeaux emerged from the pack in the final 200 meters to charge home for second.
"Turning for home, he was looking around," said Rosario after his first win in Dubai. "I was hoping I had enough horse left because it's a long stretch."
Animal Kingdom won his first stakes race since the Kentucky Derby, which he captured by 2 3/4 lengths. He earned an Eclipse Award in 2011 as the nation's champion 3-year-old male.
The final time in the World Cup was 2:03.22 as Planteur came on for third, with Side Glance fourth.
Animal Kingdom was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in American pools hosted by AmWest Entertainment. The field numbered 12 after the earlier scratch of defending champion Monterosso, who was reported by Godolphin Racing to have been lame. The winner paid $7.40 and $3, with Red Cadeaux, representing Great Britain, and Irish-bred Planteur returning $23.40 and $8, respectively. The exacta (12-2) was worth $247.
The U.S.-based mare Royal Delta was best away from the gate for Mike Smith, who was able to slow the pace early while leading Side Glance, Animal Kingdom, and second choice Hunter's Light. Animal Kingdom moved into the second spot on the outside of Royal Delta on the backstretch as they stepped an opening half mile in 50 seconds. Animal Kingdom increased the pressure on the leader rounding the turn and cruised to the front.
Animal Kingdom hit the stretch two lengths in front and was not seriously threatened through the lane.
Royal Delta faded to 10th while a third American entrant, Dullahan, finished 11th.
The winner was coming off a runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap Feb. 9. Rosario, riding Animal Kingdom for the first time, was subjected to quite a bit of criticism for making a premature move that left Animal Kingdom 1 1/2 lengths behind Point of Entry.
"This horse has had some kind of saga, up-down, up-down," said Irwin. "We all knew he had a race like this in him. We saw it in the Derby, we almost saw it in the  Breeders' Cup [Mile]. This was it."
Motion added: "When this horse got hurt a year ago, Barry said, 'Let's aim for the World Cup in 2013.' I thought he was crazy."
Irwin responded, "I thought the same when he [Motion] wanted to go in the Breeders' Cup Mile. It's a dead-heat on whose crazier.
"Credit to the jock [Rosario]," Irwin added. "As bonehead a ride he gave him last time, he was brilliant today."
Motion said, "I couldn't believe it when he turned for home. He was going so nicely. It was like the Derby."
At the time of his sale, his connections said Animal Kingdom would be flown from Dubai to England and considered for a possible start at Royal Ascot in June prior to being retired.
Animal Kingdom has now won five of 11 lifetime starts with five runner-up finishes. His only off-the-board performance came in a sixth-place effort in the 2011 Belmont Stakes on a sloppy track. The chestnut horse has won three of four starts on synthetic tracks.
The victory, worth about $6 million, swelled Animal Kingdom's lifetime bankroll to $8,399,884.
African Story finished fifth, followed by Meandre, Hunter's Light, Treasure Beach, Kassiano, Royal Delta, Dullahan, and Capponi.
"My trip was good," Smith said of his ride on Royal Delta. "She just didn't seem to care for it. Every time she had to pick it up, she struggled. After four or five passed her, we were pretty much done; then we just got home safe."
Gary Stevens, who rode Dullahan, said, "He was traveling sweet. Jumped out good. I was a bit closer than I thought I was going to be. He was doing it under his own power. I got him out down the backside. I loved where he was at. Three furlongs out, for whatever reason, he just shut it down. He pulled up great underneath me but he was was, I don't want to say distressed, but worn out. He was really struggling the last two furlongs."