Preakness Stakes 2011 Contenders: Animal Kingdom Races For Second Leg Of Triple Crown

With a win at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom went from long-shot and afterthought to Triple Crown candidate in the span of two minutes. On Saturday, Animal Kingdom will attempt to follow-up the Derby win by adding the second jewel of the Triple Crown to his resume at Pimlico in the Preakness Stakes. Though Animal Kingdom did beat out 18 other horses to win the Kentucky Derby, questions about the strength of the field and strength of the horse persist, leaving trainers and owners looking forward to a chance to knock the derby winner off.

Matt Gardner took a look at Animal Kingdom and his chances to win the Triple Crown on Wednesday, noting his pedigree and performance at Churchill Downs. History is on Animal Kingdom's side and if the race unfolds like it did in the Kentucky Derby, he's as good a bet as any at Pimlico.

Animal Kingdom is at least on the right side of recent history.  In the last 25 years, nine winners of the Kentucky Derby have rolled back to win the Preakness off of a two week rest, a solid 37.5% of all Derby winners during that time (Grindstone skipped the Preakness in 1996 due to injury).  Additionally, Animal Kingdom proved his versatility when he won the Derby by closing into a historically slow early pace. That fact alone makes him an interesting prospect at Pimlico; if he can close like he did in the Derby, but with quicker fractions on the front end, will there be a horse that can deny him the top prize?

The Kentucky Derby was run at an incredibly slow pace, but Animal Kingdom showed an impressive burst of speed down the stretch to reel-in Shackleford and distance himself from the field. We know he can close, but with a field that should set a quicker pace, we're about to find out whether that same burst of speed will still be held in reserve at the end.

As the morning line favorite, Animal Kingdom has the weight of expectations, unlike at the Kentucky Derby where he was a long-shot at 20-1 odds. There's no sneaking up on anyone and the rest of the field is gunning for Animal Kingdom. Instead of a sleeper, he is the target this time around and it'll be interesting to see how he handles a race with what should be a different dynamic than the Derby.

The 2011 Preakness Stakes gets underway on May 21 at Pimlico racetrack. Stay with our 2011 Preakness Stakes StoryStream for odds, contender profiles, post positions and more. To look back at the Derby, check out SB Nation's 2011 Kentucky Derby StoryStream. Also, our horse racing blog And Down The Stretch They Come has two must-read resources for Derby and Preakness fans: A Beginner's Guide To Following Horse Racing and a glossary of horse racing terms.

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