Ky. Derby Trail: Man in Motion

It takes great training skills, good fortune, and exceptional horses to propel a trainer up to the ranks of America’s elite. That rarified air is reserved for only a handful of horsemen. Graham Motion may not be up there with the likes of Pletcher, Baffert, Asmussen,  Zito, and McLaughlin, but don’t be surprised if he reaches that plateau in the near future. We can’t think of any trainer whose stock is rising faster than the native of Cambridge, England.

The soft-spoken Motion has always had the stigma of “turf trainer” attached to him, with his biggest successes coming with Better Talk Now and Film Maker, who between them have a win, three seconds, and a third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) and Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), respectively. Then he upset last year's BC Filly & Mare Turf with 46-1 shot Shared Account. But he did make his mark on the dirt in 2009, winning the Whitney (gr. I) and Alysheba Stakes (gr. III) with Bullsbay, who also finished third in the Woodward (gr. I).

Synthetic tracks brought Motion on the Derby Trail in 2008 when the Lanes End Stakes (gr. II) with Adriano. He repeated this year, winning the same race, now called the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III), with Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom.

In addition to Animal Kingdom, Motion has Toby’s Corner (owned by Dianne Cotter), who won the Whirlaway Stakes on dirt and was third in the Gotham (gr. III), and the Team Valor-owned Crimson China, who finished a fast-closing second in the Rushaway Stakes and is scheduled to run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).

He also recently captured the grade II Mervyn Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds for Augustin Stable, and we should see the son of Smart Strike on Derby Day in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT).

Motion’s career received a major boost last fall when he took over all the Team Valor horses, including Animal Kingdom, Crimson China, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT) winner Pluck. He also took over the training  of one of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) favorites, Summer Soiree, after she was purchased recently by Team Valor. It is apparent owners are beginning to recognize Motion’s talents, not only with turf horses, but any kind of horse, and you can be sure more and more good ones will be heading his way.

We had a chance to visit with Motion at Fair Hill in 2009 and can’t recall seeing a better run operation and more people who loved what they were doing and happy to be where they were. No stress, no discord, just a tranquil atmosphere for both people and horses. Just watching the ageless Better Talk Now frolicking about in the round pen was worth the price of admission. And seeing Bullsbay walking down the picturesque horse paths that lead to and from the training track or through the woods gave one the feeling of being in Chantilly, and there is no greater place on Earth for horses than Chantilly.

Heather Craig has been working for Motion for nearly four years as a traveling assistant, taking all his best horses around the country. “Graham is the best boss I could ever have or want,” said Craig. “He’s so laid back, and the way he manages all his horses, everything always runs so smoothly. He is a great person to work for and a great horseman. Although we’ve had all these great opportunities that have been given to us recently, Graham still takes everything in stride. Everything is the same as it’s always been. Everyone gets treated equally. I can’t say enough times how wonderful it is to work for Graham. And he has so many knowledge horsemen working for him.”

Two of them are Adrian Rolls, who runs the Fair Hill barn and has been with Motion since they both worked for Jonathan Sheppard and then Bernie Bond, and Dave Rock, who is in charge at Palm Meadows and Keeneland and has been with Motion off an on from the beginning

“I met Graham at Cheltenham when came over there to run Flatterer (in the 1987 Champion Hurdle) for Jonathan and we became friends,” Rolls said. “I came to America to work for Jonathan, and then we both went to work for Bernie Bond until Bernie died. Several of the owners wanted to leave the horses with Graham and that’s how he got started.

“Graham is very much like Jonathan. He’s a lot more hands-on than most trainers and he’s very conscientious and particular about everything that happens with the horses. He doesn’t leave too many stones unturned. He’s very alert. He just remembers everything about the horses. I don’t how he does it. Guys like Graham and Jonathan think outside the box and I think that gives them an edge.”

Rock added, “Graham is very level headed and easy going. He doesn’t let anything get to him. Everybody thinks of him as a grass trainer, but he can train anything. He always does the right thing by the horse. He’ll never run one just for the sake of running.”

So, here is Motion on the Derby trail with three horses. Two still have to prove themselves on dirt and one still has to prove he’s fast enough and advanced enough to compete against the top horses. But all three are bred to run all day, and regardless of how they do in the Derby or whether they even make the Derby, they will be forces to reckon with when the distance stretch out.

Crimson China actually was the more advanced of the two Team Valor horses and was supposed to be their starter in the $500,000 Spiral Stakes, with Animal Kingdom heading to the Rushaway. But Animal Kingdom had slightly more earnings than his stablemate and made it into the field, while Crimson China was left out and had to take the low road and run in the non-graded Rushaway.

This actually may turn out to be the best thing for Crimson China, a horse we have been high on since he won an allowance race on grass at Gulfstream.. Animal Kingdom, by running in the Spiral, now must go six weeks into the Derby, something that hasn’t been accomplished since 1956, while having only four career starts. Crimson China, if he can pick up enough earnings in the Blue Grass, will go into the Derby off a more traditional three weeks. But as in the Spiral, he still has to get into the Blue Grass field.

Toby’s Corner, meanwhile, will either take on Uncle Mo in the $1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I) and attempt to pick up at least second-place money to qualify for the Derby, or head to the Illinois Derby (gr. II), which would be much easier to win, but can on many occasions favor horses on or near the lead.

“It’s pretty exciting stuff,” Motion said. “We were never concerned about ability with Animal Kingdom. We just felt Crimson China might have been a little bit better prepared to step up at this time. Crimson China made up a lot of ground in the Rushaway. At the three-eighths pole I was concerned he wasn’t going to get anything. Alan (Garcia) said he asked him down the backside just make sure had he had a lot of horse under him and he responded very well and made a nice run. I think both horses were taken out of their game to be honest. We had no intentions of being at the back with either one of them. It’s just the way they broke and the way things set up.

“It was always our thought to run Crimson China in the Spiral because we knew he had more of a dirt pedigree behind him. Animal kingdom is a brilliant work horse, and has been working in company withy Pluck all winter. He has really impressed me in the morning. Crimson China is a little more laid back, but I thought his race on the grass at Gulfstream was very impressive. I did breeze Crimson China once on the dirt right after he came here and after that I breezed him on the grass because we were planning on running him on the grass. But he seemed to handle the dirt fine.

Motion said of the decision he has to make regarding Toby’s Corner, “Realistically, I’d like to run him in the Illinois Derby because I think that’s a race he can win. And I have no desire to run against Uncle Mo. But if you consider the earnings, he would pick up more for finishing second in the Wood Memorial than he would if he won the Illinois Derby. That’s what makes it more confusing. The Wood is a lot closer to home and it will be very tempting to run him there. Wherever I run him I’m going to put blinkers on to get him a little more focused. He’s been galloping in blinkers and will work with them on Monday (April 4).

Animal kingdom and Crimson China have been shipped to Keeneland and will remain there until close to the Derby. Animal Kingdom will breeze once at Keeneland, probably the weekend of the Blue Grass, and then will work twice at Churchill Downs. Motion may just van him over for the works and keep him and Crimson China at Keeneland, but he will play that by ear.

If Toby’s Corner runs in the Illinois Derby and runs well, he probably will ship to Keeneland. If he goes in the Wood, he likely will be sent back to Fair Hill.

It is an exciting time for the Motion team, as they see their world expanding. With three Kentucky Derby hopefuls and a leading Kentucky Oaks contender to go with their already plentiful supply of stakes horses, Motion is starting to get a good whiff of that rarified air.


Leave a Comment:


i know that you normal just write about the ky derby, but i was just wondering on who has a better chance to win the ky oaks this yr. arienza or r heat lighting? since arienza is probably going to race next in the fantasy stakes, then maybe go to the ky oaks afterwards.

03 Apr 2011 3:34 PM
Steve Haskin

R Heat lightning has a huge class and experience advantage. Arienza still has to prove herself. She hasn't run against anything. I'll have a better idea after the Fantasy.

03 Apr 2011 4:26 PM
Matthew W

I (finally!) won at Gulfstream! I played three races--I had Hudson Steele in the 11th race, a horse who has improved in every turf start...also I played To Honor And Serve win/show so I didn't lose on that race, but my big winner, the one who put me over the top today, was a result of astute handicapping---er, well, not exactly--I played Jardin in the Skip Away, only I read the form wrong, he was entered in two races today, and I got his number wrong--I thought he was #10, so by mistake I had the 5-1 winner--I finally won at Gulfstream! As for the race itself, speed bias aside, I loved the 2nd place horse--he ran his eyeballs off--Zito has a Derby contender (what's new), a nice looking dark grey, the time did not inspire as the pace was strong--not sure what to make of the race, all in all--am thinking more and more like Mr Cho is going to have his lifetime dream, and I do mean dream--of having a real Derby contender, Premier Pegasus, as I don't think we saw the Derby winner today....

03 Apr 2011 7:31 PM

Joyful Victory has been way more impressive then Arienza... I still also have not giving up on Dancinginherdreams.

03 Apr 2011 8:06 PM
John T

There have been many English-born

trainers who have done well over the years in North America because the one word that is bred into them

when it comes to the racehorse is patience,indeed one of the greatest

patient jobs ever in thoroughbred

racing history must surely be when

Micheal Dickinson brought Da Hoss

along to win his second Breeders Cup Turf Mile.Of the current crop of Englishmen training overhere,men

like Neil Drysdale,Ben Cecil,

Johnathan Sheppard,our own English

trainers here in Canada,Roger Attfield,Mike Keogh,and Ian Black,

all have done well because of tremendous amount of patience they show with a racehorse.That,s why I

can say with all confidence there is much more to come from Graham Motion.

03 Apr 2011 9:09 PM

Thank you for recognizing Graham Motion, a trainer I have been a fan of and following for a long time.  Oh, I know you already knew what a great guy and trainer he is, but I'm speaking of writing a nice Derby trail column about him - lol!  I am thrilled that he is now in the position of having three contenders on the Derby trail and I wish him all the best.  Thank you, Steve, for another great article!

03 Apr 2011 10:03 PM

Dear Steve,Great article on Graham Motion.How do you feel about blinkers on for Tobys Corner in the Wood

03 Apr 2011 10:10 PM

Don't sell Summer Soiree short, Team Valor certainly didn't when they stepped in an recently bought her off her two dominating victories at Turfway.  Sure that is a long way from the first Friday in May but her victories was so authoritative that any conversation about the Oaks must include her.  Maybe it was ust a cse of some Larry Jones magic, but the move to Graham Motion as trainer will certainly not hurt her.

03 Apr 2011 10:21 PM

Well..R Heat Lightning should run in the KY Derby, not the Oaks. I am amazed at all these people salivating over these colts when Mo has been consistent and the others are extended to beat 65-1 shots. I think this is really a crap group of colts this year, except for Mo, and R Heat Lightning would give the Derby a lift.

Anyone running any of these colts in the Derby will be lucky if the colt ever  races again. The Derby has 20 horses, most of whom would have trouble beating Donnaguska, let alone Uncle Mo. I get apoplectic reading about Dialed in's victory today...well, who cares. In the past decade, how many colts won the Derby after the Florida Derby?  Not many.

Worse, the Wood Memorial has been a graveyard for colts. Let's all hope Mo can make those colts look like the $1,000 claimers they all are. Premier Pegasus is a joke. He beat a bunch of quarter horses in the San Felipe after the pace collapsed. Well, Whoop de doo. What a total joke. He ran hsi final in 31 seconds, vs, Uncle Mo at 22.87 and really, people are hailing Pegasus as the creme de la creme? Let's see what he looks like running like that in the Derby...

03 Apr 2011 11:16 PM

"Stigma?" of being a turf trainer?

Stigma: 1.A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach

04 Apr 2011 5:57 AM

kathmanblu has been the most impressive filly running this yr, but arienza has the best pedigree out of any 3yr old this yr. i mean she's the only 3yr old racing this yr who is out of a horse of the year mare, though her pedigree is only topped by her older half brtoher take control who is by a hoty and out of a hoty, but he hasn't raced since december 2009.

04 Apr 2011 9:35 AM
Stud Book Facts.

I hate to spoil someone's dream, but DIALED IN can't win the Kentucky Derby, as he descends from the most obscure TB family in the stud book.

Although two and a half centuries ago it did produce the mighty Bay Bolton, but that's a long time ago.

04 Apr 2011 9:54 AM
Smoking Baby

Mathew W.  HAH!!!  GREAT story.  Thanks for sharing.  Too funny.  Hey, whatever works bro.  A winner's a winner.  Good job.

04 Apr 2011 10:01 AM
Mary Zinke

Matthew W, Dialed In does look grey bacause he's always filthy dirty coming from way behind to win. He's dark bay/brown.

04 Apr 2011 10:54 AM
Liz Jamieson

I think that Summer Soiree and Kathmanblu will be tough in the Kentucky Oaks

04 Apr 2011 11:53 AM
Matthew W

Haven't heard nuch about Zazu (not sure how you spell it), but she's my Oaks futures bet--she'll have to be all that to handle R Heat Lightning, though....

04 Apr 2011 12:09 PM

Congratulations Matthew. Hudson Steele actually cost me the Pick 6. I had 5 out of 6 and he was the one I missed!

04 Apr 2011 12:16 PM
Don from PA/DE

Nice write up Steven about a really nice and bright trainer GM, I have seen him many times at Delaware Park and respected him, was a bit surprised though (unless I missed it) no mention of that other (a bit eccentric to say the least) wizard from across the pond, Mr. Dickinson, also has/had a nice training farm near by in MD, with him Tapit and others live on as well....Don

04 Apr 2011 12:20 PM
Matthew W

Premier Pegasus is no joke! I saw him in the Prevue at Hollywood--he broke fast, gathered easily (and that is key!), then he rebroke--sure he had pace in front of him in the San Felipe--but that wasn't his fault, and he did what the other off the pace types did not do--I'm not sure of that :31 and change 5/16's, not sure if he actually ran that slow--he surely did not look slow to me, but then again I've only been in this game for forty years--it's horse racing, where you're bound to be right once in a while, I'll go this far: Premier Pegasus is no joke--and leave it at that! At least we know he has speed, and he can/and will rate back off a fast pace--in that respect Premier Pegasus is ahead of many of the other contenders....

04 Apr 2011 1:59 PM

I love all of the Dialed In detractors! Don't want to start a food fight, but, they said a lot of the same things about Zenyatta, and he runs a lot like she did, last to first style. And, he's so much fun to watch! As they say, you dance with who brung ya, and whoever shows up is who you race against! They also used to make fun of Seattle Slew...he had a funny leg, he was ill-bred, he somehow slipped in to win the TC, and like Rodney Dangerfield, he couldn't get any respect!  Well, yeah, now everyone wants to have some of Slew's blood! I'm still fairly new back to the sport, but really, it is amazing how many jaded people there are who continue to try to advance their points from a negative perspective, tearing down horses and implying if you like a certain horse you are somehow mentally deficient!  Life must be dull and colorless for people like that...stop trying to instruct us and say why you like a particular horse, not why you don't like a bunch of others.  It really gets old and boring fast.  

04 Apr 2011 3:03 PM
Zenyatta John

Gotta love how Steve answers one question on the Oaks - and BOOM - this is an Oaks blog. Most serious gamblers don't even look at the Oaks till the day before.

Jon - R Heat Lightning would be lucky to win the Oaks - and talk of her in the Derby is just silly. She blossomed on the Gulfstream speedway - whoopdy do....

I've been a fan of Mr Motion for many years as Saratoga has been one of the places he races in the summer.

Team Valor is building their own barn at Fair Hill - I hope Graham has a long and positive relationship with Team Valor and wins a lot of races along the way.    

04 Apr 2011 3:39 PM


I was enjoying the story about Graham Motion until I got the part where he said “And I have no desire to run against Uncle Mo”  Why must trainer make those type of comments that make them sound silly? He is deliberating options to secure graded earning to run in the derby where Uncle Mo will start as the favorite. By extension he should have no desire to run against Uncle Mo in the derby as well. Does he expect a different Uncle Mo on the 1st Saturday in May? If I were an owner thinking of using the services of Mr. Motion, his aforementioned illogical statement would disqualify him. Trainers are required to prepare their charges to the best of their abilities and sent them to do battle. His statement suggest he has conceded victory Uncle Mo and consequently accepted defeat before the race is even run. True professional do not take adopt those attitudes and approaches. How many horses that Uuncle Mo has defeated have dropped dead? Horse are not afraid of horse and anything can happen in a race. The 60-1 Shackleford almost won the FL Derby. Monarchos made what still remains one of the most devastating moves in the FL Derby and passed his opponents like they were glued to the ground. He went to the Wood and got beat. Secretariat lost his effort in the wood. Mr. Motion and all other like minded trainer should not start their charges in the derby if they are afraid of a particular of horse. There is no place for fear in thoroughbred racing and trainer must aspire to do what is perceived to be impossible. This is what distinguishes the greats from the average. Mr. Motion has not distinguished himself with his utterly illogical statement.

Animal Kingdom should not be place in the derby and Mr. Motion should know this. Probably he is too busy being fearful of Uncle Mo. The mile split of 1:38.96 for 2011 Lane End/Spiral was the slowest in the last 5YRS.By extension the final time of 1:52.32 was also the slowest. The final 3F of the Spiral were completed in 39.75. The last 3F in the 2010 Lanes End were completed in 37.91. This derby is about speed and those figures are not going to get the job done.

04 Apr 2011 4:23 PM

Kathmanblu is a turfer simple as that. In no way is her dirt races better then her turf races. I wouldn't bet her with stolen money in the Ky Oaks. Much less the Ashland to be honest.

Good luck at the windows everyone...

04 Apr 2011 7:22 PM
Bill Daly

Glad you mentioned Bernie Bond in the article.  I often wonder what Cure The Blues would have amounted to had Bernie continued to train the horse into his 3 yr. old season. Not sure, but I think Graham Motion was on Bernie's staff when he had the horse.  What a monster he was at 2!  Unfortunately, I think that Bernie's health problems started to mount and he couldn't handle the rigors of the Derby trail.  The horse was turned over to Leroy Jolley by the Firestones and didn't exactly thrive under his care. CTB was a pretty high strung horse which really hindered in chances in classic races.  As I recall, even the great Bill Shoemaker couldn't get him to relax in the Derby and he ran off the board - an effort that didn't come close to approximating the horse's ability.  That was some team Bernie had back then when Graham Motion and Adrian Rolls were with him.  It's just a shame that the Firestones didn't leave CTB with Bernie & Co.

05 Apr 2011 10:26 AM
lucky jim 31

Good article Steve.Was a fav of mine from delaware and also reread your article of feb 8 leaving training to trainers where shackleford lineage was outlined and it gave me reason to think hes a player in the derby.  

05 Apr 2011 12:58 PM

Great article about a great trainer and a great guy.  Graham is a very laid back guy and I am so glad he is finally getting the attention he deserves.

05 Apr 2011 1:21 PM
Chicago Rick

Did I read correctly that Churchill Downs extended the futures pool 5 minutes so people could bet after the Florida Derby? How about the poeple that took the risk and bet Dialed In before the race expecting the pool to be closed?  All bets made after 4:59:59 should be refunded and the odds should be adjusted.  

05 Apr 2011 1:32 PM


05 Apr 2011 6:12 PM
Forbidden Apple


Shackleford did not know what his odds were, all he did was run hard. Dialed In finished fast and will fall in love with the KY Derby distance.

Why bother posting here when you do zero research before opening your mouth? Premier Pegasus ran his last 1 1/2 furlongs in 31 plus, not his last furlong. Wake up!

05 Apr 2011 6:33 PM

Coldfacts, what do you really know about being a "true professional" horse trainer? I'm not a trainer & don't know as much as lot of people here; BUT I know that a good trainer has to weigh all the options for a horse & what is best for them. Timing and determining when you try to peak a horse is considered. Determining when the horse is ready to meet Uncle Mo qualifies as thoughtful, not fear. Wining enough $ to get in the KY Derby is also a valid strategy in planning races. Sometimes it is time to stretch & test a horse's talent while another time the priority may be set the horse up to win. I don't think it has anything to do with fear on the train's part. I would like to see horses raced more frequently as they were in the past.

And regarding Dialed In & his FL Derby win, he did not do well in his previous race but that race was part of his trainer's strategy. (I hope I have this right, & I am sure someone will correct me if I am mixed up on the horse). They wanted him to face adverse conditions & get used to running with dirt flung in his face, which payed off in FL.

BTW watching Dialed In and Shackleford battle in the home stretch, it was obvious what a smooth effortless stride Dialed In possessed, far superior to Shackleford who was running on heart, scrambling with all he had. He actually reminded me of a canine running all out. No disrespect intended! It was just my thought at the time. The contrast was just so significant. It was a valiant effort but he is not the superior horse even though he only lost by a nose.

And last of all Stud Book Facts, focusing on just the sire line is a poor way to evaluate a pedigree.

06 Apr 2011 2:03 AM
Forbidden Apple

Correction, Premier Pegasus ran his last 2 1/2 furlongs. My mistake for typing in a hurry.

06 Apr 2011 5:30 AM


Many thanks for your comments they have been noted. I always seem to anger some of Steve’s supporters and might have a short window remaining for submissions. Now to address some of the point you raised.

“Coldfacts, what do you really know about being a "true professional" horse trainer?”

A lot! I had 8 trainers during my first life in which I owned and raced thoroughbreds. You have clearly misunderstood the point I was making. When trainers make certain comments one does not have to be overly knowledgeable to recognize how either silly ofrillogical they are. Let me give you an example before I continue on Mr. Motion.  Trainer Todd Pletcher commented after Dunkirk’s loss to Quality Road in the Florida Derby that if he had known they were going to make the track so fast he would have gone elsewhere. If Dunkirk had won the race would he have made such a comment? No! I considered his statement then lacking in professionalism as he was indirectly accusing the Gulfstream maintenance crew of speeding up the track for the big day thus giving some horses an advantage.  The trainers of the horses that finished behind Dunkrik took their loss like processionals and did not whine. It is Ironic that a year later Quality Roar under his keep and care  of Mr. Pletcher set a NTR at the same location and there was no talk of the track being excessively fast.

Trainer do make illogical comments and Mr. Motion made one such when he stated “And I have no desire to run against Uncle Mo” would he have said that about either The Factor or Premier Pegasus whose speed figures are comparable to those of Uncle Mo?  

“Determining when the horse is ready to meet Uncle Mo qualifies as thoughtful, not fear’

Madam the derby does not start and end with Uncle Mo in spite of his past performance. He is not the standard by which all thoroughbreds are judged. He will not be the only horse in the either the Wood or Kentucky Derby. A horse that in not ready to perform at a G1 level is likely to get hurt even if the field excludes the likes of Uncle Mo. A trainer job is to get the horses under his keep and care fit and ready to run against all opponents. Where places them is his choice but do not make comments exposing fear of other horse as it’s not the professional thing to do. Mr.  Motion could have given Uncle Mo credit for being an exceptional talent whom he is willing to take on at a later date. To state he has no desire to run against Uncle Mo come over as defeatist.  Its horse race and anything can happen. Why should Mr. Motion confine his lack of desire to run against Uncle Mo to the Wood if he is trying to get the particular colt to the derby?

“Wining enough $ to get in the KY Derby is also a valid strategy in planning races”

The runner up purse in the wood is $200,000

Let me restate there is no place for fear in thoroughbred racing and trainer must aspire to do what is perceived to be impossible. This is what distinguishes the great one from the average.

06 Apr 2011 1:41 PM


It appears the Graham Motion knows a lot more about training and racing than you.

He's an understated soft spoken kind of a guy and apparently fear is NOT a factor for him or Toby.

10 Apr 2011 10:04 AM


I am not sure what language you speak but it could not be English if you submitted a such a statement.

You have clearly not comprehended the context of my post. I suggest you revisit same.

10 Apr 2011 10:40 PM

I'm thrilled Graham Motion is getting the attention he deserves. I've long thought he is vastly underrated and underappreciated. I can say he and his entire staff are tremendous people. I've visited their barn several times and each time they welcome fans with open arms. What a great group of people! Congrats on another big win for them over the weekend.

11 Apr 2011 11:02 AM

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