Trainer Graham Motion and his horses spent a lot of time on Interstate 87 this summer, bouncing between the base at Maryland's Fair Hill Training Center and a barn on the far turn at Saratoga Race Course.
Led by stakes wins by Tacticus in the Birdstone and Under Control in the Lure heading the list, Motion won six races at the meet with nine seconds and nine thirds from 57 starts.
"It seems like most years we get to five or six winners and it's hard to get beyond that," Motion said with about a week to go in the meeting. "It seems more competitive this year than I've ever noticed. Maybe it's because we're running in stakes races a lot and we're running a lot of 2-year-olds. Things have to go right here. You can't afford to have a bad trip because you can't win. It's too competitive. I'm happy with the meet, but if we could win one of these big races between now and the end that would make it even more of a success without a doubt."
Just as training ended early for the Travers Aug.29, Motion went through his Saratoga barn list with The Special's Joe Clancy.
Rafting: "He's a 2-year-old, by Tapit, for Wertheimer. I think he's a nice horse. He ran once up here (seventh on the turf Aug. 8) and I think he'll move forward off the race. He works Monday and if all goes well, he'll run the last weekend of the meet."
War Order: "Another 2-year-old. He ran once here, third sprinting on the grass (Aug. 2). I've got him in going long (on the also-eligible list today) and I think he'll be pretty competitive if he draws in. I like him a lot."
Tusk: "He's a Flaxman 2-year-old homebred. He ran really well up here (third on the turf Aug. 2). He's a Tapit too. I'm hoping to get him in at the end of the meet. He's a little cheeky. He's had a lot of people off. Not in a nasty way, just cheeky."
Ascend: "This horse is a little better than he's shown. I put some blinkers on him (for Saturday, where he finished second by a head). He's a 3-year-old for Arthur Hancock. He can probably run on the dirt, but his best works have been on the synthetic so I've got him on the turf."
Future Show: "A 3-year-old maiden filly for Sagamore. She's a half to (graded stakes winner) Daring Dancer. She finished second (Aug. 1) and I'm hoping to run her back. There's no race in the condition book. She's a Maryland-bred. I could run her there, but I think she's good enough to run up here and obviously you're running for more money here."
Lady Of Gold: "She's kind of frustrating. To me in the morning, she shows us she's stakes caliber and she's yet to win a stakes (though the 5-year-old placed in five). I'll probably run her here in the Glens Falls (Sept. 5). She seems to be better at the longer distances."
Eastern Belle: "She has just been incredibly unlucky. She's a half-sister to the horse that won the English Derby this year (Golden Horn). She's had a couple of tough trips. I really like this filly. I think the Glens Falls should be a good fit for her too. She's a come-from-behind turf horse and she's had some unlucky trips. That happens."
Strong Stipulation: "He won first time back at Delaware and I thought he ran a big race here on the grass (fifth beaten less than 2 lengths Aug. 15). The grass was a bit of an experiment. He could end up back here or he could go to Parx for a grass race. I thought he was going to be a really nice 3-year-old and he was a little disappointing. We gelded him and he's come back a much better horse."
Tacticus: "He's a great big, gorgeous A.P. Indy colt, a Flaxman horse who was trained by Lady Cecil and came over to run on Belmont Day and came up with a foot abscess. We brought him up here, ran him in an a-other-than on the dirt. He ran really well, and then we wheeled him back pretty quickly (in the Birdstone) going a mile-and-three-quarters. He won very comfortably. He's a beautiful animal. I'll run him back at Belmont in the Temperence Hill. If he runs well there, we'll take him to Lexington for the marathon they still have on the (Breeders' Cup) undercard."
Sherini: "She's a Bernardini 2-year-old half-sister to Shackleford. I've had a couple out of this mare (Oatsee). They tend to be late-developers. If she works well on Monday, I plan to run her the last weekend going 7 furlongs. Obviously, out of that family you have high expectations. Seven furlongs I think will be a good distance for her."
Holiday Star: "He was second for the second year in a row in the John's Call. He ran a big race. He's one of the barn favorites, a lovely horse to be around. People like him. He's become kind of an old warrior for those distance races. He lost his form a little bit over the winter, but seems like he's coming back to himself. I thought he ran well to be second the other day. He's not going to be running in the grade ones, but he's going to be hard-knocking in these lesser races."
Majestic Smile: "A Majesticperfection 2-year-old filly, and a half-sister to Silver Reunion who I trained. I have high hopes for her. She worked on the grass (Friday) and we're hoping to run her the last week of the meet. She's done everything nicely in the morning. A little quirky, as was Silver Reunion. Her sister was very good. I'm hoping this filly is as good. She's shown potential in the morning and I thought getting her up here a couple of weeks early would really help her."
Under Control: "He's really coming around this year. He won the Lure very impressively, comfortably. He's done well since then and if he does well this week we'll take a shot and run him in the Bernard Baruch. He's another barn favorite. He's been around for quite a while. Some of these South American horses, it's hard for them. They have to immediately be running against older horses and he's played catch-up a little bit. Whenever we feel like he needs it, (owner Charlotte Weber) takes him to the farm and that's really helped him. He's come back each year perhaps a little better."
J La Tache: "She ran once up here, finished second to some monster of Steve Asmussen's (Constellation) going short on the dirt. She always acted like one of my most precocious 2-year-olds. She ran huge, she's had a work - a half-mile in :48.66 Friday - and we've entered her for Wednesday. I'd hope she'd be pretty competitive off that race."
Messi: "He's a lovely horse, kind, a lovely horse to be around. It's going to be a big step for him (in the Sword Dancer). I hope he's up to it. Hopefully he has a good trip and gets to run his race. To run that distance, there just aren't that many options. You almost have to run in a graded race. I believe he probably bled in Geramnay and that's part of the reason they sent him over here."