ELKTON, Md. — He was late for his morning coffee and missed Jane and Marcus before they went to school. Bentley and Sasha, a couple of Labradors, were waiting at the door and his wife, Anita, was in the kitchen. Six minutes away at a European-style equine oasis, the Herringswell Stable was humming along. Graham Motion is a horse trainer, a stay-at-home one.
He started his morning at 5:30 at the Fair Hill Training Center by putting half of his more than 100 horses through their training paces. In a few minutes, he would return to his barn to condition the rest of them. Some were sent out for a hack, as Motion, an Englishman, calls a jog through the wooded trails and open fields; others went to the turf course.
Before the day is over, all of them would be turned out into paddocks to be, well, just horses.
What Motion was not going to do this afternoon or most other days was go to Pimlico or Delaware Park. He has a “traveling lad” to oversee the loading and transport of his horses, and two longtime assistants to accompany them. Instead, Motion works with the horses until early afternoon and watches them race on television.
“My job is to get them prepared for the track,” said Motion, 46, who retains a polished British accent despite having lived in the United States for 30 years. “I got into this to be around animals, and that’s where I like to spend my time. I also like being home when the kids come home.”
On Tuesday, however, Motion will break his routine and fly to Louisville for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby. One of his horses, the Spiral Stakes victor Animal Kingdom, is stabled at nearby Keeneland. Motion’s Big Horse, the Wood Memorial champion Toby’s Corner, will ship on Tuesday.
Motion has made the trip to the Derby twice before and had miserable experiences. In 1998, Chilito fell apart mentally in the weeks leading to the race and finished 11th. Ten years later, he watched Adriano finish 19th out of 20.“
Chilito went the wrong way and I was green,” Motion said. “I knew I was in trouble when he tried to mount the horses next to him in the saddling paddock. With Adriano, I overreached. I promised myself that I wouldn’t go again unless I had a horse that belonged. I wanted one to take me, not have me drag one there.”
In the case of Toby’s Corner, Motion needed fate and the colt’s owners, Julian and Dianne Cotter, to intervene. Like his trainer, Toby, as he is known here, is a homebody. He did not go to Florida, the traditional winter proving ground for East Coast-based 3-year-olds. Instead, he wintered here amid brutal mid-Atlantic weather and galloped in the snow.
Toby’s Corner, a son of Bellamy Road, shipped to Delaware, Laurel Park and Aqueduct, winning three of four races. But in March, when Toby finished a disappointing third in the Gotham Stakes, Motion decided to regroup and wait until the Preakness to enter the Triple Crown fray.
The Cotters had a feeling, though. They had bred Bellamy Road and in 2005 had watched from their home in Florida as he rocketed to a brilliant 17 ½-length victory in the Wood for his owner, George M. Steinbrenner. Dianne Cotter decided then that the first opportunity they had to breed to Bellamy Road, they were going to keep the offspring.
Julian Cotter took it a step further. He not only told Motion that Toby’s Corner should run in the Wood, but also guaranteed that the colt would win it. Adrian Rolls, another Englishman and Motion’s assistant for nearly 20 years, agreed.
“He was a May foal,” Rolls said of Toby’s Corner, “and you could watch his hacks and gallops and see he was getting full of himself. He was growing up before our eyes.”
So Motion shipped Toby’s Corner to New York last month to take on the juvenile champion Uncle Mo, then a Derby favorite. When the field of nine turned for home, Toby’s Corner was threading his way from sixth place past Uncle Mo and the runner-up, Arthur’s Tale.
He was sent right back here to a barn that is a virtual penthouse, with expansive polished wood stalls and set amid 350 acres of tranquillity. It is as close to the “yard” way of off-track training favored in much of Europe as there is in the United States. Motion came by it honestly.
He grew up at Herringswell Manor Stud, a boarding farm 10 minutes from Newmarket, England, that was operated by his parents, Michael and Jo. Michael, now 80, was an international bloodstock agent who came to the United States as Tattersalls’ North American representative. Jo, 79, an amateur steeplechase rider in England, was among the first women to take out training licenses in the United States.
It is serene here, and Motion sets a unhurried pace, another characteristic of European racing, for his employees and his horses. He does not overwork his horses — Toby’s Corner will have only one timed workout between the Wood and the Derby and that will be here on Sunday.
“He knows what to do with these horses,” said Barry Irwin, whose Team Valor International gave Motion more than 30 horses to train, including Animal Kingdom. “He can train all kinds of horses, and he and his team really care for them. His creates a relaxed environment. He’s refreshing.
”Motion is also one of only two trainers in last year’s leading money list who have never had a medication violation. Christophe Clement, a New York-based Frenchman, is the other.
“We’re very conservative,” Motion said. “If they came out tomorrow and said there can be no medications at all, it wouldn’t affect us in the slightest. I think too many people use it as a crutch.”
Motion’s love for his horses is perhaps best summed up by the two old fellows who have permanent stalls in his barn: Gala Spinaway, 23, and Better Talk Now, 12.
“We call them the grumpy old men,” said Anita Motion, who runs the business end of Herringswell Stable.
Gala Spinaway was Motion’s first stakes winner and Better Talk Now gave him his first Breeders’ Cup victory, in 2004.
“They are the two most important horses in my career so far,” Motion said. “I made friendships and gained clients because of them. They are lovely animals as well and will always have a home with us.”
Will Toby’s Corner become Motion’s first Derby winner, and earn a retirement in the place where both trainer and horse have been so comfortable? For now, Motion cannot see past tomorrow.
“I am apprehensive,” he said. “He could get a fever tonight and be done. He could step on a stone. We’re done. Every morning I come to the barn, there’s a horse that has gotten an infection or bruised shin it didn’t have yesterday. Every morning, I hope it’s not him. Let’s just get to the Derby in good shape first.”
Excerpted From 5/1/11 New York Times