Zoldan fondly remembers Animal Kingdom’s career

Bruce Zoldan remembers May 7, 2011, like it was yesterday.

The Phantom Fireworks President and CEO knew the 20-to-1 odds on Animal Kingdom made the thoroughbred one of the long shots to win the crown jewel of horse racing’s triple crown.

He was enthralled with every hoof print Animal Kingdom made on the 1 mile track, not knowing what was in store – a Kentucky Derby victory.

Zoldan is part of the consortium of Team Valor and vividly remembers celebrating Animal Kingdom’s unlikely win.

“I have a couple You Tube videos that were taken of me as I watched the race,” Zoldan said. “I pinch myself every time I watch it to make sure I’m not dreaming. I never imagined Animal Kingdom would win. I always hoped he would but knew he was a 20-to-1 long shot. When the horses entered the stretch and I heard the announcer say Animal Kingdom was making a move, I began jumping up and down. When he won right in front of me, it felt like my heart stopped. Maybe it did? When I began to run to the winner’s circle surrounded by security, I wasn’t sure I would make it and I’m on the treadmill on a regular basis. I really don’t think I could ever truly express the excitement at the moment.”

It was the highlight of the decorated thoroughbred’s career, which ran its final race June 18 in Ascot, England. Animal Kingdom had five first-place and five second-place finishes on its resume.

Unfortunately its final race wasn’t one of its best performances – finishing 11th.

This race was following the March 30 Dubai World Cup that Animal Kingdom won.

“I was disappointed that Animal Kingdom ended his career with a lackluster performance,” Zoldan said. “That was never his M.O. I’m sure in hindsight we would have stopped with the Dubai World Cup win. On the bright side, Animal Kingdom brought me and my partners to London and the Royal Ascot and I was honored to be close to the Queen (Elizabeth) as she visited the paddock area before our race. All the British I talked with were so appreciative we brought AK to London. They were all cheering for him.”

Animal Kingdom is now retired to Arrowfield Farm in Australia. Zoldan remains realistic about his expectations going forward.

“I am involved with many other horses with Team Valor,” Zoldan said. “We are trying hard to have another Derby entry next year. In the last six years we have had three Derby contenders Visionaire, Animal Kingdom and Went the Day Well last year. I will never be obsessed with chasing a second Animal Kingdom dream horse, but my love of the sport will keep me involved and trying and being realistic.”

Thinking about Animal Kingdom, Zoldan said he’ll always have May 7, 2011.

“It is certainly a feeling of emptiness knowing that my dream horse of a lifetime has finally run his last race,” Zoldan said. “I have worn the Kentucky Derby 2011 ring that Churchill Downs sent me following that Derby win. As someone that doesn’t wear jewelry, I kept telling myself I will only wear it until AK retires. Now it’s time to retire the ring and put in the trophy case and I’m really having a difficult time taking it off my finger. Animal Kingdom has given me the gift of being connected to the history of the sport. The year I was born, Citation won the Derby and the Triple Crown. I remember as a child following the Kentucky Derby every year never imagining I would one day be in the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May. The gift in life that Animal Kingdom gave me will be perpetual.

“Anytime I get in a stressed mood or need something to make me smile, I turn on the video of the race and it cheers me up instantly.”