Velazquez and Animal Kingdom in winner's circle at Churchill

May 8, 2011 8:49 AM

An injury to Animal Kingdom’s regular rider, Robby Albarado, cleared the way for John Velazquez to pick up the mount on the 20-1 long shot. Once he took the reins Saturday, he rode his good luck all the way to the winner’s circle.

"For once, I’m on the good end of it," Velazquez said. "All of a sudden I pick up this one and he wins the Derby, so it was meant to be."

The last three years, the New York-based jockey came to Churchill Downs with a colt considered a leading contender, only to have it withdrawn.

This time, he was supposed to ride early second choice Uncle Mo before the colt was scratched due to a lingering stomach problem. Then Albarado broke his nose when he was thrown off his horse and kicked in the face before a race three days ago.

Animal Kingdom, who had never raced on dirt before, reacted to his new rider the way a champion should, charging down the middle of the stretch to win by 2¾ lengths in front of a crowd of 164,858, the largest in Derby history.

He ran 1¼ miles in 2:02.04 — well off Secretariat’s track record of 1:59.40 in 1973 — and paid $43.80, $19.60 and $13.

Nehro returned $8.80 and $6.40, while Mucho Macho Man was another neck back in third and paid $7 to show.

Dialed In went off as the 5-1 favorite for two-time Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito, but finished eighth.

Rosie Napravnik was ninth aboard 8-1 second choice Pants On Fire in her bid to become the first female jockey to win. Still, her finish was the highest of the six women who’ve ridden in the Derby.

"I couldn’t have wished for a better trip," she said.

whole way around, so he gave me a lot of confidence to be where I was and when I asked him to do

Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch, who started from the inside rail, was vanned off the track with a leg injury and will need surgery for a non-life-threatening fracture.