Graham Motion’s world tour continued this week as he left Maryland Sunday night for Lambourn, England to see his stable star Animal Kingdom for the first time since they stood in the winner’s circle after the world’s richest horse race.
It’s been a busy 17 days. On March 30, Animal Kingdom won the Dubai World Cup . . . on April 5, Motion ended his relationship with the horse’s co-owner Team Valor International . . . today, horse and trainer are on the cover of The Racing Post in England with eyes on a start at the renowned Royal Ascot meeting in June. In between, Motion flew to Lexington twice to saddle horses at Keeneland and speak at the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club dinner.
Saturday morning, between sets of workers, Motion stood outside his Fair Hill Training Center barn and talked about what’s next with his horse.
“I hope to see that he’s put some weight back on and just see that he’s moving well and physically that he’s doing well,” the trainer said. “By all accounts he is, but I just want to see him. I want to see where we’re going to gallop him every day. He hasn’t started galloping yet. I want to come up with a routine that he’s going to do for the next two weeks before we start working him again.”
The goal is Ascot, home to the Royal Procession, top hats and tails and all the pageantry and prestige that come with more than 300 years of racing history. Queen Anne founded the course in 1711, and it’s been an important part of the world’s racing calendar ever since. Motion is leaning toward the Queen Anne Stakes (at a mile) over the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (1 ¼ miles), in part because of the uphill nature of the Ascot course. As former trainer Michael Dickinson cautioned Motion Saturday at Fair Hill, “It’s a stiff mile.”
Assistant Alice Clapham accompanied Animal Kingdom from Florida to Dubai and now to England.
Animal Kingdom has been stabled at trainer David Lanigan’s Kingsdown Stables in Upper Lambourn, England. The area, known as the “Valley of the Racehorse,” is home to 50 racing yards and more than 1,000 horses. Kingsdown was built in 1937 and has housed trainers Jamie Osborne, Mick Channon, Peter and Charlie Nelson. Past residents include 1974 English Derby winner Snow Knight and 1986 champion 2-year-old Minstrella.
Lanigan trains for the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings, for whom Motion trains American runners. Flaxman racing manager Alan Cooper recommended Kingsdown and Motion was comfortable with Lambourn. For one, he’s been there – with American steeplechaser Flatterer in 1987 and while working for English trainer Charlie Brooks. For two, it’s a little less busy than the England’s other prime training area, Newmarket.
“It just appealed to me that it was a private yard where I could do more what I wanted to do rather than get caught up with what everyone else was doing,” said Motion. “For the horse, it’s going to be a big transition. The idea of showing up in the middle of Newmarket Gallops was a little bit horrifying, for a horse that’s never done that. This way I can break him into it a little bit slowly. I have time.”
There’s plenty of that, despite the big goal. Coming off a race, and two long flights, Animal Kingdom got plenty of time to recover after Dubai.
“He would have had two easy weeks whether he was here or there or anywhere, to get over the trip and the race,” Motion said. “It’s not a lot different from what he would have done here. I’ll start picking it up with him. He seems to have handled everything. The way he handles things is what gives you confidence.”
Motion expects to travel back and forth to England frequently, catching Animal Kingdom’s works (as many as he can) and overseeing preparations. Clapham will handle the day to day, and be in frequent contact with her boss. The trainer expects to spend the final two weeks before the race in England with his family.
“May’s going to be busy,” he said. “I want to see him work as much as I can. We’ll try and work him at Ascot one time. The principal plan is to keep him eligible for both races and then as we get closer, see what the ground is going to be like because that’s going to be a big factor and it will give me a chance to make a decision. There’s going to be a lot of homework to do but it’s a big undertaking.”
Though it’s far too early to need a jockey, Motion said he was leaning toward bringing in John Velazquez for the Ascot race. He rode Animal Kingdom to victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and has ridden at Ascot.
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