Animal Kingdom is a rare horse

If not for impressive pre-race dirt work, Animal Kingdom wouldn't have been at Churchill Downs. AP Photo/Morry Gash

Gambling is very much a vital part of horse racing and not only at the betting windows. Every farm and horse owner tries to decipher the complicated world of breeding to come up with a superstar athlete.

The majority of the hard work and money don't pay off for a plethora of reasons, including injury and poor performance. At various public auctions, millions of dollars are spent and the return on the investments can be minimal. There have been horses that have been sold for over $10 million but didn't bring back even a fraction of that money while racing.

But there are occasions when the time and money do pay off, and for former journalist-turned-horse owner Barry Irwin, his deal-making and research led him and his partnership, Team Valor, to the Kentucky Derby.

Irwin's planning began when he and the Team Valor partnership purchased Animal Kingdom's mother, Dalicia, and father, Leroidesanimaux, a few years ago. Both horses were successful on the turf in the United States and overseas, and Irwin paired them up in 2008. The result was Animal Kingdom.

With two parents that were winners on grass, his racing future on conventional dirt tracks such as Churchill Downs was certainly a question mark. So Irwin and Animal Kingdom's first trainer, Wayne Catalano, elected to run him on artificial dirt (polytrack) in his first two starts in the fall of 2010. That formula proved fruitful as he won in his second try.

Insiders, like private clockers, and others who had seen Animal Kingdom train on dirt, seemed very confident that the colt could run well on the surface, but there were many who weren't as certain. One insider who was confident was Randy Bradshaw, a former trainer who runs the Adena Springs Training Center in Florida.