Still absorbing Kentucky Derby win, Motion turns attention to Preakness

Trainer indicates that Animal Kingdom will head to Pimlico as long as he's healthy

May 08, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A lot of horse trainers spend a lifetime dreaming about winning the Kentucky Derby.

Graham Motion is not one of them.

Some of that, Motion would attribute to the fact that he grew up in Cambridge, England. On the other side of the ocean, America's premier thoroughbred race is not exactly something an English boy, even one who loves horse racing, grows up pursuing.

"I mean no disrespect, but it wasn't ingrained in me to win this race," Motion said.

But some of it can also be attributed to Motion's considerable humility. Even after his family moved to Maryland permanently when he was 16, and even after he became both an American citizen and a highly regarded horse trainer, he hadn't allowed himself to dream quite that big.

Standing outside a rented barn on the backstretch of Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, holding a cup of coffee from Starbucks and working on only a few hours' sleep, Motion looked like a man who still hadn't quite digested the fact that, a little more than 12 hours earlier, he had become the 108th man in history to train a Kentucky Derby winner. Animal Kingdom, the large chestnut colt who earned him the surprise victory, stood quietly in his stall, just a few feet away.

"It's not something I ever expected to do," said Motion, 46. "So, certainly, I was surprised. [Saturday] was a little surreal."

Motion said that when Animal Kingdom crossed the finish line, his primary emotion was confusion. He wasn't sure where he was supposed to go or what his responsibilities would be.

"I'm no Bob Baffert, so I didn't quite know what I was doing," Motion said.

As is always the nature for the for the Derby-winning trainer, Motion won't have much time to let the win marinate. He has to begin thinking about the Preakness, a race that has added meaning for Motion as an adopted Marylander. His maiden victory as a trainer came at Pimlico Race Course in 1993.

"It's an odd feeling to have won the Derby, and then you've got to start thinking about winning the Preakness," Motion said. "It's a little daunting."

Motion hesitated a bit when asked whether Animal Kingdom was guaranteed to run in the Preakness, wanting to discuss it first with Barry Irwin, who oversees the Team Valor partnership that owns the horse. But it's fairly clear that as long as Animal Kingdom is healthy, he'll be in the May 21 race.

"I think we'd better, right?" joked Motion, who plans to ship Animal Kingdom back his training facility in Fair Hill on Tuesday. "I mean, I'm going to the Preakness as long as he's OK. He won the Derby. We're going."

Already, a picture of whom Animal Kingdom might face in the second leg of the Triple Crown is beginning to take shape.

Derby runner-up Nehro will consider running, according to owner Ahmed Zayat, but it seems more likely the horse will focus on the Belmont Stakes. Third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man, however, seems likely to come to Pimlico as long as he's healthy. Trainer Kathy Ritvo said she would like to give him a few days to recover, but she was leaning toward coming to Baltimore.

"I'm really proud of the way he ran," Ritvo said. "He came back really well."

Trainer Dale Romans said Shackleford, the fourth-place finisher, would target the Preakness as well.

Todd Pletcher officially ruled out Uncle Mo for the Preakness and the Belmont, as he's still not sure what is ailing the reigning juvenile champion. His other Kentucky Derby runner, Stay Thirsty, was likely to focus on the Belmont. But he is contemplating entering Dance City, a speedy horse that finished third in a competitive Arkansas Derby, in the Preakness.

"Right now, we're leaning in that direction," Pletcher said.

Nick Zito said he was likely to run Dialed In in the Preakness even though the Derby favorite finished a disappointing eighth. That's because Dialed In, thanks to his victory last month in the Florida Derby, is eligible for the 5.5 Preakness Bonus, a program cooked up by MI Developments Inc., the majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club. If Dialed In wins the Preakness, his owner Robert LaPenta would get an extra $5 million and Zito would get $500,000.

"The $5 million would be good enough to run in the Preakness," said Zito, who noted that Dialed In ran the back half of the Derby quite well. "We love Pimlico and look forward to another shot."

Nehro's trainer, Steve Assmusen, said he plans to enter Astrology, who finished second in the Jerome Stakes in his last start and has never been out of the money in seven career outings. Baffert said he would wait a week to make a decision on Midnight Interlude, who finished 15th, as well as The Factor, a horse once considered a legitimate Derby threat before he underwent minor throat surgery.

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