ELKTON — — His day-to-day work has not changed. The routine for Graham Motion is no different now than it was in the early 1990s, when he first became a thoroughbred trainer.
"We send them out there, see how they are doing, take what we can from what we see and do it again the next day," Motion said last week.
He spoke from the grounds at the Fair Hill Training Center, a bucolic full-service facility nestled near the northeast corner of the state. Motion, who has pointed Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well to Saturday's 137th running of the Preakness Stakes, has settled in here as one of the most respected in his field.
Motion now has two barns at Fair Hill: his original, and a newer facility built specifically for horses owned by Team Valor International. That group, headed by former horse racing writer Barry Irwin, brought Motion both Went the Day Well and last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. Tucked around the corner of their barn is a giant tub which fills with salt water and allows horses to be soaked at temperatures as low as 33 degrees. Not far from there, a field gives Motion the option to turn his horses out and gallop freely.
"The advantages are obvious if you're standing here," he said. "It's a much better situation for the horses in a lot of ways. But 10 or 15 years ago, nobody thought a Kentucky Derby winner could come from a training facility."
Motion's horses have proven far from unsteady once they get to the often-hectic race track. Last year, in 535 starts, more than 20 percent of his horses won and more than 50 percent finished in the money. His horses earned $8,818,283, a new career high.
What's more, Motion is widely considered one of the cleanest, safest trainers in what has long been a sport prone to excess and rule-bending. According to The New York Times, Motion is one of only two of the top 20 trainers last year — ranked by earnings — who has never been cited for a medication violation. A Times analysis of three years worth of racing data shows that Motion's horses broke down or were injured 0.5 times per 1,000 starts, much lower than the national average of 5.1.
Doug O'Neill, whoseI'll Have Anotherwon the Kentucky Derby, averaged 12.1 injuries or break downs per a thousand starts.
Motion comes from a family of horsemen (O'Neill picked it up after enjoying the races in California) and has top facilities at his ready (O'Neill trains primarily at tracks.) When Animal Kingdom, who was found to have a stress fracture after his successful return to racing in Florida, is cleared to return — which could happen after the results of a bone scan are known this week — he'll do so at a therapy center a few barns over.
But Motion's reputation has been long in the making, and he is admired for the way he handles what is often a rollicking profession. And success, those who know him say, has not changed him. While he now trains about 120 horses out of Fair Hill and employs anywhere from 60 to 80 people on a given day, he hasn't wavered in his approach. Though not able to work with each horse directly the way he once did, he keeps tabs on them through his trusted assistants.
"Graham, his temperament, he's able to work with so many horses and so many people," said Michael Matz, the Barbaro trainer whose barn is on the other side of the track at Fair Hill. "He can handle that."
While Motion noted that training centers are now "almost fashionable," he did say that it can be difficult to figure out when to ship a horse to the race track. At Fair Hill, the fields stretch for miles and the people are out-numbered by horses. That won't be the case at Pimlico, which rises from the center of Baltimore's West side and could hold 120,000 people on Preakness day.
Motion plans to take Went the Day Well there Tuesday.
"He's just an immature horse who likes to look around," said Motion, who has Went the Day Well staying in a stall across from the serene Animal Kingdom. "We'll get him over there and see how he likes it."
Motion is also looking to get Went the Day Well on the track at Pimlico. Last year, Animal Kingdom had to come up the outside of the track and was caked in dirt by the end of the race. He hadn't shipped there until Saturday morning.
"I think it was just a case where that part of the track generally isn't used," Motion said. "There aren't many races where you have that many horses. But I think it will be good to get Went the Day Well out there, see what it's like."