April 13, 2011

Talking Mo-Mania On The Derby Trail

Animal Kingdom winning the Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park

     With 23 days to go until the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, it is time to talk about Mo-Mania – and we are not talking about Uncle Mo. We are talking about trainer Graham Motion. The momentum started when Animal Kingdom won the Vinery Spiral, but reached an absolute roar when lightly-regarded Toby’s Corner shocked 1-to-9 favorite Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial.
     In the thoroughbred racing community, there isn’t a trainer who is more highly regarded by his peers, his owners and his fans.  His slow climb to where he stands now started with Motion’s first stakes winner Gala Spinaway.  He then scored his first Breeders’ Cup win with veteran turfer Better Talk Now. Now, as the recently selected primary trainer for Barry Irwin’s Team Valor, he has two, maybe three legitimate Kentucky Derby starters.
     The 2010 campaign started a little slowly for the Cambridge, England native, but the way it finished propelled Motion to the ranks of elite trainer.  The graded stakes winners started coming during the summer. First there was Check The Label, then Gypsy’s Warning and Shared Account. The biggest victory though came in the Breeders’ Cup.
Trainer Graham Motion
     Shared Account is owned by Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Farm.  The mare’s chances of winning the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf might have taken a turn for the worse when she was spooked during a morning workout. Shared Account reared up and dropped exercise rider Heather Craig.  Luckily for all involved, including Shared Account, Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott was nearby. He wheeled his pony around playing outrider and managed to keep the mare from bolting into the distance. Shared Account won the $2,000,000 turf race the next night.
Shared Accounts tries to run during morning workouts.
     It was shortly after this win that Barry Irwin announced that Motion would become Team Valor’s sole trainer. According to Irwin, “Graham is attractive to Team Valor because he has been successful with the kinds of horses we own and in the races we want to win.”  Irwin added, “Also, he is squeaky clean in terms of his record with drugs and he trains at Fair Hill, which we consider to be a huge plus.”  That’s right, while many trainers were racking up suspensions for medication violations, Motion had exactly zero in more than 8,000 starts.
     All Team Valor horses were transferred to Motion and will eventually be stabled at a newly purchased barn at the Fair Hill Training Center.   Among the horses who came Motion was recent Juvenile Turf winner Pluck.
Shared Account (inside, 5) wins the 2011 Filly and Marf Turf.
     That quickly, Motion was able to claim something not even UberTrainer Todd Pletcher could claim – three Breeders’ Cup winners in the barn.  To be fair, Better Talk Now is retired. He is still in the barn at Fair Hill. Better Talk Now gets regular exercise, gets to frolic in the fields and still delights the many visitors who just can’t get enough of “Blackie,” as he is called by the many who love him.
     The training center is but 350 acres of the 5,600 acres that comprise the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area.  The rolling hillside and woods in northeastern Maryland have not only the thoroughbred facility, but it also plays host to steeplechase racing, a nature center, a county fair, 80 miles of hiking trails and is home to the annual Fair Hill International, a upper-level Three Day Event.
Dianne Cotter (right) leads Toby's Corner to the winner's circle.
     In addition to training Pluck and Animal Kingdom for Team Valor, Motion also manages Crimson China and the recently purchased Summer Soiree, the runaway winner of the Bourbonette Stakes. Animal Kingdom and Summer Soiree have already punched their tickets for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively. Pluck had been ambitiously pointed to the Irish 2000 Guineas until bone bruising was revealed during a recent examination. He will have time to recuperate at Fair Hill.
     Crimson China still has to prove himself in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes this weekend at Keeneland Racecourse. In his first non-turf start Crimson China finished a fast-closing second in the Rushaway Stakes on Spiral Daym but has no graded earnings. According to Irwin, “We hope Crimson China can pull off an upset in the Blue Grass, because like Animal Kingdom he can get the Derby's 10 furlongs and has a better pedigree to handle the dirt.” Irwin is also happy with the path Motion has taken thus far. “Graham has given these two every chance and we are thrilled with the job he has done with them,” Irwin said.
Graham Motion at Santa Anita for morning workouts
     Crimson China will not be highly regarded in the Bluegrass, but Motion is no stranger to longshots.  His first Breeders’ Cup win came at odds of 28-1.  Shared Account scored the second win at 39-1. Then, there was the 2011 Wood Memorial.
     Uncle Mo was being billed as “The Next Secretariat” by many. His legend had grown so large, so fast, that even Sports Illustrated sent a team of photographers to document his coronation in the Wood Memorial.  What the crowd of more than 12,000 witnessed though was, well, very much like Secretariat.  Not since Big Red himself was shocked in his own Wood Memorial effort had race fans seen such an upset.
     It would the Graham Motion trained Toby’s Corner, Dianne Cotter’s homebred son of Bellamy Road, that would deliver the defeat. The win in the Wood vaulted Toby’s Corner to 4th in the graded earnings list, making him the second Motion trainee to secure a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 7th.
Summer Soiree winning the Bourbonette Stakes
     The win in the Wood Memorial gave Graham Motion his sixth graded stakes win for 2011, already two-thirds of the way to the 2010 total for Herringswell Stables.  Having Animal Kingdom, Toby’s Corner and Summer Soiree also gives Motion a real chance at winning the elusive Kentucky Oaks-Derby Double.
     According to KentuckyDerby.com, only two trainers have managed to accomplish that feat -- Ben Jones in 1949 and 1952 with Calumet Farms' Wistful/Ponder and Real Delight/Hill Gail, respectively, as well as Herbert J. Thompson in 1933 with Colonel E.R. Bradley's Barn Swallow/Brokers Tip.
Toby's Corner (center) rushes between horses ofr a win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
     Graham Motion is on a roll in 2011 and most think it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.  Many were stunned when Uncle Mo lost, but the consensus among spectators was that if Mo had to lose, they were glad the winning trainer was Motion.

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