Derby winner Animal Kingdom on his way to Maryland

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is on his way to Maryland.

LOUISVILLE — Animal Kingdom is on his way to Maryland.

The Kentucky Derby winner was loaded early this morning onto a van headed for Elkton, Md., where the 3-year-old chestnut colt will prepare for the Preakness Stakes on May 21.

Owned by racing partnership Team Valor International, Animal Kingdom was joined in the van by his groom, Porfirio Fernandez, and Summer Soiree, another horse trained by Graham Motion.

Animal Kingdom will stay at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. The nearly 700-mile drive will take approximately 11 hours.

“Just peace and quiet here,” said Dave Rock, assistant trainer for Motion, who left for Maryland on Monday. “Now we start all over again.”

Animal Kingdom has walked daily in Churchill Downs’ Barn 22 since Saturday’s race and will make his return to the track for a jog in Maryland on Wednesday.

“We always walk them for three days and then start back training,” Rock said.

With the short two-week turnaround heading into the Preakness, Rock anticipated that the horse would not work between races.

“We don’t usually run horses in two weeks, either. But you kinda have to at this point, right,” Rock said with a chuckle.

Animal Kingdom’s Derby win was his debut on dirt, a first in the history of the race. A win in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness would set up the chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The third and final leg of the series, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, will run June 11.

Animal Kingdom’s early morning departure resulted in little fanfare, a stark contrast to the scene Saturday that saw a record 164,858 in attendance. Just two local videographers and a reporter watched the horse depart, but van driver Keith Cooper said he dressed up for his precious cargo.

“I’m wearing long pants,” Cooper said, sporting well-worn denim. “I usually wear shorts.”

Cooper said he planned to “take it easy on the turns” throughout the drive.

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