published Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Animal Kingdom, a 20-1 longshot, captures 137th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—In his first race on a dirt surface, Animal Kingdom roared from the pack to capture the 137th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

A 20-1 choice ridden by John Velazquez, who lost his ride on Uncle Mo on Friday when the horse was scratched, Animal Kingdom chased down Shackleford, who led almost the entire race. Animal Kingdom is trained by Graham Motion, who is based in Fair Hill, Md. Nehro also made a run, but finished second. Mucho Macho Man was third. Shackleford faded to fourth.

Animal Kingdom paid $43.80, $19.60 and $13 on a $2 bet. Nehro returned $8.80 and $6.40. Mucho Macho Man paid $7.

After the race, Animal Kingdom's owner, Barry Irwin, told NBC: "I can't believe it — that's the headline. I'm just thrilled."

The largest crowd in the history of the event, 164,858, packed Churchill Downs to watch as the best 3-year-olds in the world competed for the blanket of roses. Despite the fact that the race didn't have an overwhelming favorite, it had no shortage of compelling story lines.

The most talented 3-year-old in the country, Uncle Mo, didn't even make it to the gate because he had to be scratched a day before the race with a mysterious illness that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, and a team of veterinarians have been unable to diagnose. That left the field as wide-open and unpredictable as ever.

Trainer Nick Zito was trying to win his third Kentucky Derby overall, but his first in 17 years, with Dialed In, a horse that entered the race as the favorite. Zito just missed out on a third Derby win a year ago when Ice Box finished a close second to Super Saver. Only six trainers in history have won three Derbys during their career.

Jockeys Calvin Borel and Rosie Napravnik were both attempting to accomplish something unprecedented. Borel, aboard Twice the Appeal, was trying to become the first jockey to win three consecutive Derbys (and four the the last five), and Napravnik was trying to become the first female jockey to win the race. As it is, she's only the sixth woman to even ride a horse in the Derby.

And trainer Kathy Ritvo, trainer of Mucho Macho Man, entered the race as a big sentimental favorite. Diagnosed with heart disease in 2001, Ritvo received a heart transplant in 2008, and vowed to use her platform as a way to promote organ donation.

Unlike the past two years at the Derby, the weather didn't play a factor. Although weather reports called for a light rain around post time, and the sky over the twin spires of Churchill Downs was a dull gray, the rain held off, which allowed relatively dry track conditions.

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