His parents were heavily involved in racing and it rubbed off on their son, who started training in 1993 and 11 years later won his first Breeders’ Cup event with Better Talk Now in the Turf. That win threw the mild-mannered Englishman into the limelight and he hasn’t looked back.
Trainer Graham Motion packed a suit in a carry-on bag, borrowed a Herringswell Stables jacket from one of his assistants, and flew in to Kentucky for the day to saddle three stakes runners at Turfway Park.
While having lunch in a box overlooking the racetrack, Motion accidentally knocks over a salt shaker. One of his companions says, “That’s good luck, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to throw it over your shoulder?”
Motion wasn’t about to let an opportunity go to waste. “Which hand?” he asks, before throwing the salt over his left shoulder with his right hand.
A short while later, he sends off My Meadowview Farm’s Marion Ravenwood to a sixth place finish in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks, and favorite Crimson China walks out of the gate to spots the field many lengths before closing powerfully to finish second in the Listed Rushaway Stakes.
It is not looking like Motion’s lucky day after all. He makes his way to the paddock for the Vinery Spiral Stakes, a Grade 3 event in which Animal Kingdom, like Crimson China a Team Valor International-owned three-year-old, is second betting choice.
He puts blinkers on Animal Kingdom. His jockey Alan Garcia, frustrated over his ride on Crimson China, gets blinkers of sorts as well: “Don’t worry about that race,” Motion tells him. “Focus on this ride.”
Motion and his assistant Heather Craig go into an office on the ground floor hoping to see the simulcast from Fair Grounds, where Smart Bid, trained for George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable, is about to start in a Grade 2. Inside, one of the TVs is replaying the Rushaway on a loop. Motion turns the volume down after the third or fourth time Crimson China loses in quick succession. “I can’t watch this again.”
The Fair Grounds race unfolds on another TV but it’s too close to call on the wire, with a nose, a head, and a neck separating the first four. Smart Bid’s is the nose that is either first or second. It’s hard to tell whether the five-year-old has eked out his first graded stakes victory, but there’s not much time to think about it as the horses are loading for the Spiral.
As the gates open at Turfway, Smart Bid’s race in Louisiana becomes official – he has won. Moments later, Animal Kingdom roars down the stretch an emphatic, two-and-three-quarter length winner, and Motion looks relieved. He and Craig start to head out of the office to the winner’s circle before the trainer pulls himself up. “Is it official?” he asks. “Do you think we need to wait?”
Motion and his team have won two graded stakes races within a span of about three minutes. After the winner’s circle crowd of Team Valor partners has dispersed, the reporters huddle close to Motion to record his soft, quiet voice. Although he’s worried about making it to the airport in time for his flight home, he answers their questions politely.
“That’s why we’re in the game, for moments like that,” he concludes, and as he turns to leave a fan is waiting for his autograph.
These three minutes pretty much sum up the season that the mild-mannered Englishman based at Fair Hill in Maryland has been having.
Unlike his accent, his roots are as much American as they are British. Motion’s two sisters were born in the U.S., and although the family moved back to England in 1962 – two years before Motion was born – they would return for good in 1980.
Michael and Jo Motion were heavily involved in horseracing. Michael at one time or another worked for Fasig-Tipton and managed several horse farms, while Jo had looked after 1951 Grand National winner Nickel Coin and was one of the first women in the U.S. with a trainer’s license. They ran their own farm, Herringswell Manor, near Newmarket, which is where Graham was introduced to horseracing.
His mother recalls taking him to the races “in his pram,” standing at Devil’s Dyke near the July Course at Newmarket, when he was four months old because child… Read the full article