“Alice . . . Alice Dubai . . . Alice UK . . . I’ve got a lot of Alices.” Actually, Graham Motion has just one Alice though she shows up multiple times in his iPhone contacts and seems to do the work of three people.
She’s Alice Clapham, assistant trainer, traveling head lass, exercise rider, loyal employee, and, for the moment, world traveler. Back in March, she and Animal Kingdom boarded a plane in Florida. They were bound for the Middle East and a shot at history in the Dubai World Cup. The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner throttled 11 rivals in the $10 million race to stamp his passport for England and a try at even more glory at Royal Ascot, where he will be favored in the historic Queen Anne Stakes Tuesday.
Clapham went along for the ride.
“Packing was a little difficult,” said the 42-year-old. “What clothes you need for Dubai you don’t need for England.”
On the plus side, Clapham got to see some family and friends. The Englishwoman used to show and event in her home country, and came to the United States to work with eventers Karen and David O’Connor in Virginia. She turned that job into one with steeplechase trainer Richard Valentine for several years, then a post with Motion. She’s been there six years with a short break for a job in Kentucky that didn’t really suit. Turns out, after years on the move in Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, Florida and wherever Motion’s horses run, she likes it. She ran the shed at Presque Isle Downs the last two summers, spent three winters in California and will head to Saratoga when she returns from England.
“No fixed abode,” joked Clapham, whose worldly possessions are locked away in her car parked by the barn at Fair Hill Training Center. “I go wherever he needs me to go. I can ride so I can do a little bit of everything on the road. Sometimes it’s easier, because you can send one person instead of two.”
Since early April, she's lived in a cottage at trainer David Lanigan’s Kingsdown Stables base in Upper Lambourn, England.
Last month, Clapham got a little more than she bargained for when Animal Kingdom took a nasty bite of her right index finger. She wound up with a trip to the hospital, a bandage and a reminder that Thoroughbreds are unpredictable. She also wound up with a bigger management role in Animal Kingdom’s care. She used to do it all; now she makes sure someone else does much of it. Irish-born steeplechase jockey Peter Carberry now gallops the chestnut 5-year-old and the staff at trainer David Lanigan’s yard helps provide the hands-on care. She'll be on walking up with him at Ascot next week however, and like anyone who works with horses, Clapham balances the potential for calamity and holds no grudge.
“He is basically very well behaved, but he is a 5-year-colt colt, stallion, whatever you want to call him,” she said. “He doesn’t particularly like being brushed and he was faster than I was. I was brushing his face and he reached to bite the brush and got my finger. I’m more mad at myself that it happened. It annoys me that I can’t do all that I want to be doing.
“If there’s an injury I’m glad it happened to me and not him, but we’re all fine.”
More than fine by the sound of things. Based at Lanigan’s yard in Upper Lambourn, Animal Kingdom has adapted to English training and worked steadily toward the 1-mile Queen Anne. His final workout came yesterday with a 5-furlong move on an all-weather gallop (uphill) in 1:03.
Clapham will leave the real details to Motion, but likes what she sees and what she felt when she was aboard for gallops. Animal Kingdom sharpened up considerably in the days leading up to the Dubai race and has shown similar signs in England.
“He’s settled in, and seems to have taken to the training over here really well,” Clapham said. “When he’s fit and fresh and ready, he does get strong. When he’s like that you know he’s ready. He’s been a bit more settled here (compared to Dubai) because it’s so open and there are only the two (horses) out there at a time.”
Animal Kingdom normally trains at 6:30 in the morning, later on Sundays (when training yards are at half staff) and when he works. He takes a short walk to the bottom of the Lambourn gallop, a trip much like the stroll from Motion’s barn to the tracks at Fair Hill, puts in his work up the short and/or the long, then takes a longer walk from the top of the hill back to the barn. His morning ends with an hour of turnout time. It’s been a chilly spring in England, so he still frequently wears a light sheet or blanket.
“There was frost when we first arrived and I haven’t been quite brave enough to leave him without a blanket for long,” Clapham said. “I was so frightened of him losing his coat that I kept him rugged up. We’ve had a couple of nice days lately, but it’s typical British weather.”
A win at Royal Ascot would reward owners Arrowfield Stud, Darley Stable and Team Valor International, further validate the horse’s reputation as an international star and add another achievement to Motion’s training career. For Clapham, the race is a chance to be associated with a top-class horse’s meaningful achievement. She’s cared for Grade 1 winner Better Talk Now, Olympic-caliber eventers Giltedge and Custom Made, future Maryland Hunt Cup winner Michele Marieschi. The feeling is the same, no matter what job the horse does.
“You never think it’s going to happen so when you do get the opportunity you take it with both hands and go with it,” she said of working with good horses. “You think you won’t get the chance to be around another one like that. You just enjoy it or try to enjoy it. You are also put under that bit more pressure and stress with a horse like this.”
Sometimes, the job calls for restraint. Riding Animal Kingdom in the mornings must feel a bit like being a practice driver for an Indy Car team.
“It’s just the power of him,” she said. “The couple of times I have gotten to work him he just floats up there and you can feel it. You know that if you asked him, there’s more there to give. You want to ask him but you say ‘No, I can’t do that.’ Horses like him are a breed unto themselves. You do it for the odd one like him to come along.”
Motion called Clapham an indispensable part of Animal Kingdom’s 2013 campaign.
“It’s important that whoever I send with a horse doesn’t assume anything,” he said. “They’ve got to let you know everything, they can’t get overly comfortable and they’ve just got to be your ears and your eyes. She has been tremendous. She’s worked for me on and off now for a long time and is extremely diligent and an extremely nice person. She made it feasible. Dave Rock has spent more time with this horse than anybody, and a lot of people have had a hand in his success, but Alice can travel more readily and I am fortunate to have her.”
For more about Animal Kingdom and his try at the Queen Anne Stakes: