(Page 2 of 3)

Motion's career took fortuitous turns on way to Preakness

English-born trainer explored other facets of the horse racing business while developing the patience for his craft

May 19, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

"We would literally be falling asleep on the way home," Anita Motion said. "But it was fun because we did it all together. That's basically what we love doing, working with the horses. As you get bigger, you become more removed from that. You become more of a manager. But those were really good times."

In 1993, the Motions were away on a rare vacation, a cruise around the British Virgin Islands. Motion called to check in with Rolls, to make sure he was still going to pick them up from the airport, and Rolls was frantic. Bond, 75, had suddenly decided to retire with no advanced warning. They had no idea what was going to happen to them, whether the owners who worked with Bond would stick with them or abandon them for someone with more experience.

"We spent a mad couple of weeks, hoping we weren't going to lose all the horses," Motion said. "We were all in a blind panic."

Many of the owners wanted to bail, but Skip and Gertrude Leviton, an elderly couple who owned several quality thoroughbreds, convinced them to give Motion, then just 29, a chance. They even paid him several months of training fees in advance, just so he could buy feed and get his license.

Motion justified the faith the Levitons showed in him by winning 21 races that year, including three stakes races with Gala Spinaway, a temperamental horse who the Motions still have to this day. (He's now 23 years old.) In many respects, he helped shape their future.

"It's pretty amazing all the events that have happened to us," Anita Motion said. "We've been extremely fortunate."

Over time, other owners saw the success Motion was having, and sent more horses his way. One of those horses was Better Talk Now, a gelding who thrust Motion onto the national scene when he won the 2004 Breeders Cup Turf at 27-1. Motion sounds almost wistful when he talks about him now. He even hands out pictures of "Blackie" to reporters who come to his office, just as a reminder that Animal Kingdom never would have come to him had he not had success along the way. In 51 career starts, Better Talk Now earned over $4.35 million in earnings.

"He was really our big horse," said Motion, who has won over 1,500 times and earned more than $64 million in purses during his career. "We owe him a lot."

There have also been misses along the way. In the late 1990s, Motion trained a filly named La Ville Rouge, who won six times in 25 career starts, but is better known for being the dam of Barbaro. Had owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson kept La Ville Rouge with Motion, he likely would have trained the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner. But for reasons they never really explained, the Jacksons decided to transfer Barbaro's dam to trainer Michael R. Matz, who also trains horses at Fair Hill. When Barbaro won the Derby, Motion figured his one chance to win the sport's signature race had slipped away.

"I've thought about that a lot," Motion said. "I had some horses for the Jacksons early on, and for one reason or another, they left. Now I have some horses for them again and we've remained really good friends. I've never really discussed with them why they moved La Ville Rouge. It happens a lot in our business. You kind of roll with the bumps. But I always felt like maybe I'd missed the ball. That was my shot."

Calm and clean

It looked like he had another Derby contender this year in Toby's Corner, winner of the prestigious Wood Memorial, but the day before he was going to ship to Louisville, he came up lame during workouts. When Rolls spotted the hitch in Toby's Corner's trot and informed his boss, both men were fighting back tears when they made the call to rule him out of the race.

Motion, though, has never strayed from his philosophy. He is a big believer that the subdued, European-style atmosphere of the Fair Hill Training Center is better for horses than life at the race track, and he runs his operation much like a family. His wife handles the business-side of things, and his two assistant trainers, Rolls and Dave Rock — both fellow Englishmen — are two of Motion's closest friends. Rolls even lived with the Motions for two weeks after having back surgery this year. His office manager, Sue Kenny, was a childhood friend of his sister.

"Graham is very calm about everything," Kenny said. "Nothing ever rattles him. And that has an effect on the whole operation, when you think about it. Because of his demeanor, it goes all the way down to the help. We have so many comments about how calm it is around the barn. Well, that's why. There is no shouting, no screaming, no running around like a chicken with your head cut off. He wants it calm, and he shows people how he wants it to be."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.