While he can't deny winning his first Kentucky Derby last year changed his life, trainer Graham Motion says that trophy on his mantle hasn't steered him away from what got him there.
"I think the biggest thing as trainers is that we try not to be influenced by our results," Motion said during a national teleconference this week. "I feel very strongly that it's important not to do that. I kind of stick with my principles."
One of Motion's principles is to let his horses prove they deserve Triple Crown consideration instead of forcing them into that role.
It worked well a year ago when his charge Animal Kingdom won the Grade III Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park en route to taking the Kentucky Derby six weeks later. While that is not the only reason Team Valor's Went the Day Well is entered in Saturday's running of the $500,000 Spiral, Motion is hoping the son of Proud Citizen makes the same compelling argument his stablemate did last year.
Though he only has a maiden win to his credit, Went the Day Well would launch his name into the Derby discussion should he beat his 11 rivals in Turfway's 11⁄8-mile prep race.
After starting his career in England, the bay colt was bought by Team Valor and brought to the U.S. with the idea that he would relish both a dirt surface and added distance.
Quarantine issues prevented Went the Day Well from making his season debut until Feb. 4, a fourth-place finish going 11⁄8 miles at Gulfstream Park. In his next outing on March 3, Went the Day Well stormed home as the even-money favorite, rallying from just off the pace to win by 11/4 lengths going 11⁄16 miles on the Gulfstream main track.
"Obviously, I thought both his dirt races were impressive, especially the first time in this country, first time on dirt," Motion said. "He put it together last time and I think we felt like we need to give him a chance. He looks like a horse that wants to go the distance."
What ultimately persuaded Motion to keep moving toward the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom is the fact the colt showed improvement at each turn — something he has also seen in Went the Day Well.
Went the Day Well has already handled one major transition, which puts him a little ahead of where the lackadaisical Animal Kingdom was at this stage.
"This is a horse that's benefited from his races in this country, without a doubt," Motion said. "You know, Animal Kingdom was a very sort of green, very laid-back horse this time last year who I would never have imagined, to be honest, he would have been my first Kentucky Derby winner. Developmentally they're probably in very similar stages, perhaps even Went the Day Well is a little further ahead."
Went the Day Well should not be over his head Saturday. The 12-horse lineup for the Spiral appears to be evenly matched. Mr. Prankster, trained by Mike Maker, is the only stakes winner in the group having taken the Prevue Stakes and WEBN Stakes at Turfway this year before running fourth in the John Battaglia Memorial on March 3.
"He broke well (in the Battaglia) but the pace wasn't quick, and (jockey) John (McKee) should have taken control of the race," Maker said. "He spent half the race trying to talk him out of running and the other half trying to talk him into it. So I'm throwing that one out."
Mr. Prankster will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik on Saturday.
Starlight Stables' Heavy Breathing is the morning-line pick at 3-1, having won both of his starts this year by large margins. The Spiral will mark the first start over a synthetic surface for the son of Giant's Causeway.