BALTIMORE — Just around the corner from where trainer Doug O'Neill holds his daily question-and-answer session with the media, fellow conditioner Graham Motion did some housekeeping Thursday morning on his end of the Pimlico Race Course stakes barn.
Broom in hand, Motion knocked dirt off the white wooden panels before stopping to laugh as the reality of the situation was playfully brought to his attention.
Earlier in the morning, the native of England had been asked about the difference in coming to the Preakness Stakes with the reigning Kentucky Derby winner as he did last year with Animal Kingdom and arriving this season with a potential spoiler in Went the Day Well, fourth in this year's Derby.
For starters, whenever reporters approached him last year, he could be sure they were a) seeking him out in particular and b) not coming to watch him dust.
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"You come to the Preakness with the Derby winner, that's pretty cool," Motion said Thursday. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Though he is still accommodating his fair share of media requests, Motion's life is not the whirlwind it was 12 months ago when Animal Kingdom was preparing for what would be a heartbreaking runner-up effort in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
With I'll Have Another winning this year, it is the enthusiastic O'Neill who has been the center of attention. Though Motion handled that role well a year ago, he concedes there is something to be said for being in the shadows.
"I'm more comfortable being under the radar. The biggest races I've won in my life I've been 28-1, and 40-1 and 25-1," Motion said. "I'm more relaxed about it (this year) because the Triple Crown is over for us in a manner of speaking."
Motion would gladly trade some of the peace if it means Went the Day Well continues ascending a steep learning curve.
As ideal a trip as stablemate Animal Kingdom had in winning the 2011 Derby, that's how troubled Went the Day Well's race was this year. The son of Proud Citizen and winner of the Grade III Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes broke a step slow then was bumped early and had to steady around the first turn, leaving him 17th in the field of 20 entering the backstretch.
"He ended up much farther back than (jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) wanted in the Derby and that's probably what cost him from being second, and might have cost him the win," Motion said.
The bay colt was one of the best-moving horses in the final furlong, though, flying home to just miss third by three-quarters of a length. That effort in his fourth start since coming over from England last winter showed Motion and owner Team Valor the slow-maturing colt was starting to put the game together in his head.
When Went the Day Well showed few signs that the race had taken much out of him, the decision to head to Baltimore was an easy one.
"He's given me every indication he's doing super, but I don't think we can tell really what the Derby has taken out of them until we get there," Motion said. "But he's a horse that never seems to get tired, to be honest. We've noticed when we work him or we run him that he never seems to get tired."
Demanding as last year's Triple Crown was for Motion, he embraced it for the rare opportunity it was. Had he not experienced the jubilation and confidence that a Derby victory gave him, this year's events might have hit him more deeply.
"You feel like we were so lucky last year to have the trip we did," he said. "I think if I hadn't won this race before and had the trip we had with (Went the Day Well) feeling like I could have won the race ... I think it would be a lot tougher to swallow. But at the same time it's a feeling of disappointment because you could have made history and I think with a good trip, genuinely, this horse could have won the Derby."