Automakers call it pick up. Step on the gas pedal, and a quality machine responds. With the right car, the only visible sign is an increase in speed.
Main Sequence is no car, but last Saturday at Fair Hill Training Center he looked like a machine - increasing the tempo on cue from trainer Graham Motion's voice in a walkie-talkie to exercise rider David Nava's hands during a final workout for Sunday's United Nations at Monmouth Park. "You can step it up a bit," Motion said after the first eighth-mile split appeared on his watch. Instantly, Main Sequence accelerated - firing off faster furlongs the rest of the way and completing 5 furlongs in 1:02.80. Main Sequence being Main Sequence, he swished his tail for fun about every 20 strides or so.
"Perfect," Motion said into the walkie-talkie as Nava convinced the chestnut gelding to pull-up.
Main Sequence returns to the scene of his American debut last summer, when he won the U.N. en route to four Grade 1 victories and Eclipse Awards as champion turf male and champion older male. He won't be 8-1 this year, but still has something to prove against eight others in the $500,000 Grade 1 turf stakes going 1 3/8 miles.
Main Sequence comes off his lone defeat for Motion, a seventh in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, while facing a solid group that includes Grade 1 winners Twilight Eclipse, Big Blue Kitten, Slumber and Imagining. The U.N. is the day's 11th race and carries a Win and You're In designation for the Breeders' Cup Turf. Post time is 5:46 p.m.
Bred and owned by Flaxman Holdings, Main Sequence made light work of the 2014 American turf division by breaking slowly and closing late - taking the Sword Dancer, Turf Classic and Breeders' Cup after the U.N. win. The son of Aldebaran opened 2015 with a Grade 2 win at Gulfstream Park, as a prep for Dubai, but never threatened in the desert.
Motion blames some poor decision-making for the dull finish, nearly 7 lengths behind winner Dolniya.
"Basically I think we probably overanalyzed the race," he said. "Instead of letting him run his race, we worried about how everyone else was going to run their race and totally took him out of his game. He was just off the pace at the top of the stretch, where normally he doesn't start moving until the top of the stretch."
Main Sequence was far closer than normal early, outside horses and in the clear for a long run up the backside, then flattened out in the final quarter-mile. The loss sparked plenty of comment from the European racing press, which saw the Kentucky-bred lose 10 consecutive races in England.
With a second opportunity, Motion would tell jockey Rajiv Maragh to stay back and let the race unfold. Main Sequence might not win, but at least he'd go down on his terms.
"On a day where we had a chance to prove his mettle, he didn't do that and it's frustrating," Motion said. "I'm not saying he had to win but he certainly could have finished a lot closer had he had a different trip. When you run in those big races, you can overanalyze them and I think that's a mistake. Just let the horse run his race. That's what got him there. He's closed into some pretty steady fractions before."
The loss seems to have done little to diminish Main Sequence, who dragged Nava through the galloping portion of Saturday's training session. The gelding's chestnut coat shines. His weight looks good. After returning from Dubai via Chicago, he took about a week off and then trained lightly through April including sessions in the back fields at Fair Hill. He worked regularly in May and Motion briefly entertained running in the Manhattan on Belmont Day before sticking with the original plan.
"He came back from Dubai and never missed a beat," said the trainer. "I think he looks as good as he's ever looked, physically. In his coat, he looks better and physically he looks better, stronger. The Dubai thing is not as hard on a horse as everybody thinks it is. The trip getting there is very straightforward and the only kicker we had was we had to come home through Chicago."
Main Sequence didn't scare off any rivals. The field includes four millionaires, plus Slumber who is $338 short. Equipped with blinkers for the first time in a race, the 7-year-old blitzed the Manhattan at 14-1 for trainer Chad Brown and a partnership of Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Stable and Bethlehem Stable. The Grade 1 score was the first since August 2013 for the son of Cacique. Irad Ortiz Jr. takes the ride. Brown also entered Big Blue Kitten, who finished second as the favorite in the Manhattan for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy won the 2013 U.N. and opened 2015 with a Grade 3 win. Joe Bravo takes the riding assignment.
West Point Thoroughbreds' Twilight Eclipse finished second or third in all five of Main Sequence's American wins and finally broke through with a Grade 1 win in the Man o' War at Belmont May 9. Beaten a neck in last year's U.N. and seventh in the Manhattan for trainer Tom Albertrani, the 6-year-old gets a jockey change to Paco Lopez. Phipps Stable's Imagining tried Main Sequence three times last year, including a head defeat in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and comes in off a short break after finishing fifth in the Man o' War for trainer Shug McGaughey. John Velazquez rides the 7-year-old son of Giant's Causeway.
California Grade 2 winner Ashleyluvssugar rides a three-race winning streak for Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing. Gary Stevens makes the trek to ride the son of Game Plan for trainer Peter Eurton. A 4-year-old, Ashleyluvssugar broke his maiden in California-bred company last summer, but has won back-to-back Grade 2 turf marathons at Santa Anita. Fourth to Ashleyluvssugar in the Charlie Whittingham in May, Divine Oath has been training at Monmouth for Todd Pletcher and Lets Go Stable while trainer Bill Mott looks to knock off his old charge Slumber with Sycamore Lane. The 4-year-old Artie Schiller colt makes his stakes debut off wins at Keeneland and Belmont.