When Animal Kingdom makes his final start on June 18 at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner will have overcome an incredible amount of adversity to compete in arguably the most prestigious meet in the world.
Born: 1955, Cherry Hill, N.J.
Residence: Denali Stud in Paris, Kentucky
Family: Wife, Holly; children, Katherine, Conrad, Isabel.
Board Positions: Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Kentucky Equine Education Project, The Lexington School.
Top Denali graduates: Animal Kingdom, Uncle Mo, David Junior, Ipi Tombe, Real Quiet, Stravinsky, Royal Academy, Pluck, Left Bank, Haynesfield, Mushka, Spring in the Air, Leonnatus Anteas, Deputy Commander, Bourbon Bay, A Shin Forward, Got Koko, King’s Best, Hookedonthefeelin, Lion Tamer, Sharp Lisa, Sophisticat, Casino Drive, Straight Story, Harlington, Santa Catarina, Spring House, Kitty in a Tizzy
Barry Irwin of owner-breeder Team Valor International has been with the 5-year-old Leroidesanimaux horse every step of the way. So, too, has Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud.
Animal Kingdom, who on March 30 became only the second horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup, was born and raised at Craig and Holly Bandoroff’s Denali Stud in Paris, Ky.
Denali has a strong track record of raising top racehorses as well as with big-ticket horses at auction. Denali has ranked in the top ten by gross yearling sales every year since 2000 and has sold $403,783,170 worth of horses since it was founded in 1990, according to Denali’s website. Craig Bandoroff said there have been a number of reasons for Denali’s success.
“The clients that gave us the chance, the land gives these horses what they need, and then all of the good people that have worked for me that were the top in their field,” Bandoroff said.
“We work hard at it every day, but lots of people do and you have to have the opportunity. Someone has to come along and say I’m going to give you quality; I’m going to give you a chance. You have to have the opportunity to perform and then the performance determines whether or not you will be sustainable.”
Animal Kingdom was a horse who showed quality from an early age and went on to become a champion, joining an impressive list of Denali standout sales graduates that includes champions Real Quiet, Uncle Mo, Left Bank, Stravinsky, and David Junior to name just a few.
“From a horseman’s standpoint, you raise them all the same and you give them what you hope is a good foundation and the best opportunity to go out there and be successful,” Bandoroff said.
“We take pictures of these horses monthly and fortunately we were able to go back in [Animal Kingdom’s] records and pull up his foal and weanling and yearling at the sale pictures, and he was always a nice horse just like we remembered him. As a weanling, you could tell he had quality and he looked like he had the frame to grow into and be a nice horse. And then at the yearling sales, you know he’s a pretty horse now and he was a pretty horse then.”
Denali offered Animal Kingdom, who was produced by German-bred group stakes winner Dalicia, at auction at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale on behalf of Team Valor.
With breeding syndicates - such as Team Valor in this instance - what often happens is that not all of the investors are interested in racing that particular horse while other investors would like the opportunity to race the offspring.
In Animal Kingdom’s case, Team Valor International purchased the colt it had bred for $100,000 at the Keeneland sale and formed a new syndicate to race the colt.
Denali was happy to jump on board as part-owner in the new syndicate.
“He brought $100,000 at the sale, and that was actually a good price, I thought, you know for his pedigree at the time – by a stallion that was unproven out of a mare that was a good mare but a little unconventional commercially,” Bandoroff said.
In 2011, Animal Kingdom came into his own under trainer Graham Motion and stamped himself a Kentucky Derby contender by winning the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. He was overlooked in the first jewel of the Triple Crown - in large part because he was making his first start on dirt - but Animal Kingdom was a colt on the rise and he rolled to a 2 ¾-length win in the Derby.
“I don’t know how much credit we should get, but at the end of the day one thing we can say is we didn’t screw him up,” Bandoroff said.
After a runner-up finish in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom was bumped hard at the start and injured in the Belmont Stakes and sidelined for eight months.
Animal Kingdom was spectacular in his much-anticipated return from the injury but was injured again a few weeks later, which forced him to miss a planned start in the 2012 Dubai World Cup.
Irwin of Team Valor opted to give Animal Kingdom the chance to recover and kept him in training rather than retire him and send him to the breeding shed. Motion oversaw a steady recovery that culminated with a visually impressive runner-up finish to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Animal Kingdom’s first race in 8 ½ months.
After a runner-up finish in a Grade 1 race to start his 2013 campaign, Animal Kingdom defeated many of the best horses in the world when he charged to a two-length win in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Barry Irwin and to Graham. Not many people have the courage and the fortitude that Barry showed,” Bandoroff said. “Most of the time, these horses get retired and put away and Barry gets full credit for that. He believed in the horse and he developed a plan and he never wavered. Give credit to Graham, when they have a horse with talent they fine-tune him like a fine instrument. Those guys, you’ve just got to respect the job they’ve done. It’s borderline remarkable.”
TOUR DENALI STUD
Photos courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog
Bandoroff started out in the Thoroughbred industry as a teenager aiming to become a top jockey. The Cherry Hill, N.J., native had just started to string together victories when a horrific accident in 1974 left him with a punctured lung as well as paralysis in his right arm that ended his professional riding career.
Bandoroff was devastated.
“After my injury, after I got hurt, I really didn’t [want to remain in racing]. I just said I’ve got to go do something else; this has been too bad a blow,” Bandoroff said. “But I gravitated back. I’ve just always loved horses. I’ve loved them as athletes. I’ve only worked around Thoroughbreds, they’re the only ones I’ve ever known. At the end of the day, I guess my attraction and my love for the horse drew me back.”
Bandoroff graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1981 and worked for Fasig-Tipton Co. in New York and for Barry Weisbord before launching Denali with Holly in 1990. Denali’s success is a product of the Bandoroffs’ hard work and determination. Animal Kingdom’s success is a fitting reward.
For Craig Bandoroff, the Dubai World Cup win was especially fulfilling because it cemented Animal Kingdom’s legacy.
“Winning the Derby is obviously a huge, huge deal, but I don’t think winning the Derby necessarily stamps you as a great horse or a special horse. For him to go on, come back from injury, and reach this level … ” Bandoroff said. “What I tell people is that there comes a point in time where you believe in the horse because you’ve been so close to him, but you want other people to believe in him and you want it for the horse more than you want it for yourself. You want the horse to have the respect of everyone because you think the horse deserves it. Reading all of the accolades he’s getting now and what his handicap ratings are and what the bookmakers and making of him, he’s in rarified air. We’re just all very proud to have had a role in it somewhere along the way.”