LOUISVILLE — Trainer Graham Motion joked Sunday morning he was missing a chunk of his memory from Saturday evening.
"I don't know what happened between 6:30 and 9 o'clock," Motion said. "Someone said that it was 9 o'clock and I said, 'What happened to the last two-and-a-half hours?' It was extraordinary."
Happily for Motion, he'll spend the next two weeks being reminded why things got a little fuzzy for him during that time.
Though Motion was still digesting having saddled Team Valor's homebred Animal Kingdom to victory in the 137th Kentucky Derby, his attention was quickly redirected Sunday toward the colt's next likely target, a start in the Preakness Stakes on May 21.
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Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin remained somewhat noncommittal about taking his classic-winning son of Leroidesanimaux to Pimlico Race Course for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Motion, however, was more confident the chestnut colt would be Baltimore-bound — injury and illness notwithstanding.
"I think we better," Motion said, grinning when asked if Animal Kingdom would start in the Preakness. "He ate up everything today and everything last night. He didn't appear to me to have a hard race (in the Kentucky Derby), and I think that will be huge for us down the road."
Motion said Animal Kingdom will return to his base at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland this Tuesday and, if he remains a go for the Preakness, likely won't ship to Pimlico until that Friday.
Though Pimlico is considered by some a tighter track to navigate than Churchill Downs, the fact Animal Kingdom was unbelievably successful in his first start over a dirt surface Saturday gives his camp confidence in his ability to adapt.
"I have a lot of confidence in this horse, he's the whole package," Motion said. "I think some of the best horses are the ones who have been able to handle both surfaces, and he appears to be one of those great horses."
The fact Motion was even talking about his horse's Preakness prospects was still quite surreal for the English-born trainer.
Having grown up in Cambridge, Motion didn't have the mystique of the Derby hammered into him the way it is for horsemen on this side of the ocean.
Motion has had no shortage of top horses come out of his stable since getting his trainer's license in 1993, but he is best known for his success with turf horses rather than being a regular presence on the Triple Crown trail.
"I never really anticipated winning the Kentucky Derby myself. This is a lot to take in," Motion said. "Being brought up in England, it wasn't one of those things that was ingrained in me to win this race. I don't mean to belittle this race one bit. It's an absolute dream to win."
Motion endured an emotionally trying week leading up to the Derby, first when Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner — thought to be his top prospect — was declared out of the race Tuesday because of lameness. Then, Friday morning, he had to call jockey Robby Albarado and inform him he and Irwin had decided to give the mount on Animal Kingdom to John Velazquez instead.
The decision to replace Albarado came about when he suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations in a paddock accident Wednesday and subsequently took off his mounts the next two days.
Though Albarado maintained he would be ready to ride Derby Day — a fact proven true when he guided Sassy Image to victory in the Grade I Humana Distaff on Saturday — Motion reiterated Sunday they were trying to look out for both Albarado and Animal Kingdom's best interests.
"It was purely about Robby's well-being and whether he could perform in what was the most important race for all of us," Motion said. "He was very disappointed, but he was very classy about it."
Ahmed Zayat's Nehro, runner-up to Animal Kingdom, was reported to have bounced out of the Derby in good order Sunday morning.
Zayat said the initial inclination is to skip the Preakness and point for the Belmont Stakes on June 11 with Nehro, but the colt's attitude in the coming days would be the deciding factor.
"If you looked at him right now you'd think you'd be out of your mind not to run in Baltimore," Zayat said. "It's more probable we'd aim for the Belmont, but I guess we are still possible for the Preakness."
Mucho Macho Man, third in the Kentucky Derby, is a stronger candidate for the Preakness, according to trainer Kathy Ritvo.
The son of Macho Uno looked bright and alert as he boarded a van to head to Belmont Park on Sunday.
"We'll have to see in the next couple days how he's eating, how his legs are and how his attitude is, but it looks good so far," Ritvo said. "We're strongly thinking about it as long as everything is good."
The Dale Romans-trained Shackleford, who finished fourth after setting the pace in the Derby, is also likely for the Preakness as is Florida Derby winner Dialed In, eighth in the Kentucky Derby after going off as the race favorite.
Dialed In is eligible to collect a $5.5 million bonus from MI Developments if he adds a Preakness win to his victories in the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby.
"I might have made a mistake not going with (2010 Derby runner-up) Ice Box last year," said Zito. "But every horse is different. This horse might benefit from wheeling him right back."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Stay Thirsty, 12th in the Derby, was not being considered for the Preakness, but he is pointing Dance City, third in the Arkansas Derby, to the 13⁄16-mile test.
"I thought his breeze today (5 furlongs in 1:01) was good enough today," Pletcher said of Dance City. "If we were leaning (toward the Preakness) before the work, the work did nothing to discourage us."