Graham Motion is on the road with Icabad Crane again. Just a little more than two years since saddling the multiple graded stakes winner for his last start, Motion and wife Anita will catch a flight Saturday morning to watch their 10-year-old gelding compete in the Hagyard MidSouth CCI* three-day event at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
With his regular rider, Olympian Phillip Dutton, aboard, Icabad Crane's rapid rise up the eventing ranks has made him one of the sport's bona fide stars. And he's introduced his owners to a whole new world.
Graham Motion had no knowledge of or experience with the discipline before sending Icabad Crane to Dutton late in 2013. In fact, Motion didn't learn to ride at all until going to work for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. One could call it baptism by fire.
"He had one horse he could ride," Anita Motion explained. "There was a guy at Jonathan's called William Godbold who was a very good rider and was actually the only one who wouldn't yell at him...because Graham got run off with all the time. They'd be galloping and Graham would have to keep turning his head so he was in behind Billy's horse."
Humble beginnings perhaps, but on Sunday the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup-winning trainer will serve as a celebrity judge at the Thoroughbred Charties of America Thoroughbred Makeover Finale during the Retired Racehorse Project National Symposium.
Anita competed in dressage and small-time hunter trials in their native England before eventually focusing her attention on racing. But nothing in either of their backgrounds could have prepared them for the ride they've gone on with Icabad Crane.
"You get through the cross country and then you think 'if we can just go clear tomorrow.' It's extremely exciting," Anita said. "We're never looking further ahead than him being healthy after each event. If he shows any sign that he doesn't want to do it...which he hasn't - he's getting better and better."
The Hagyard MidSouth competition is Icabad Crane's first competition at the CCI* level. At the end of September he won his division of the CIC* event at Plantation Field Horse Trials in Unionville, Pa. The difference in the two classifications might seem subtle but is significant.
The Concours International Combine and Concours Complet International are divisional ratings bestowed by the sport's governing body, the Federation Equestre Internationale. CIC events can be contested over one day while the CCI designation dictates that the competition be conducted as a true three-day event with dressage, cross country and show jumping occurring on consecutive days. In layman's terms, Icabad Crane is facing bigger obstacles over longer courses with more rigid time constraints this weekend in Kentucky.
And once the hard work is done, he and Dutton will be featured guests at the conclusion of the RRP activities. As the winner of last year's inaugural "America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred" title, Icabad Crane will wrap up the weekend's festivities when he passes the baton to his successor in this year's renewal.
"If all goes well after the event, Icabad and Phillip will give a demonstration of the things they're working on now," Anita said. And Dutton, who always has a few of what he calls "party tricks" up his sleeve, has something special planned for Sunday afternoon that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
For more information, see the Retired Racehorse Project website.