Kentucky Derby

Trainer Motion goes from deflated to elated

Animal Kingdom trainer Graham Motion held the trophy after winning the 137th Kentucky Derby. Motion said he told owner Barry Irwin of Animal Kingdom, "This one is special."
Animal Kingdom trainer Graham Motion held the trophy after winning the 137th Kentucky Derby. Motion said he told owner Barry Irwin of Animal Kingdom, "This one is special."

The words were like a punch in the gut for a Kentucky Derby trainer.

"This horse, he's not right."

Graham Motion remembers hearing the words clearly from his assistant trainer on Monday and feeling the words suck the breath right out of him.

David Grenig, the assistant trainer, used those words to describe Toby's Corner, surprise winner of the Wood Memorial and one of a handful of Derby favorites.

"I about fell over," Motion recalled. "That's about as tough a blow as you can get the week of the Derby."

Less than a week later, Motion was ready to fall over again, only this time it was from the joy of winning his first Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom.

But the journey to get from one place to the next has been "extraordinary," Motion said.

When he boarded his flight to Louisville on Tuesday, it was clear to Motion that Toby's Corner was out with lameness in his left leg.

The trainer, who had run two horses in the Derby and never finished better than 11th, called it "odd" to feel the intermingling emotion of heading to the Derby with a good horse in Animal Kingdom but still feel the intense disappointment of losing Toby's Corner hanging on him.

Motion tried to stay positive.

On Saturday, the disappointment was replaced by joy when Motion watched Animal Kingdom come from the middle of the pack and speed away to win the 137th Kentucky Derby.

"It's definitely surreal," Motion, 46, said afterward.

Animal Kingdom made some history along the way by being the first horse since 1918 to win the race despite only four previous starts.

Animal Kingdom was the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win despite not having run in six weeks.

He also became the first horse to win the Derby despite never previously running a race on the dirt.

Motion admitted he had some concerns and reservations about all of the above, but he also had a good feeling about Animal Kingdom.

"This one is special," the native of Cambridge, England, remembered telling owner Barry Irwin early on.

"He's just a very special horse. I was so impressed with how he handled everything today," Motion added.

When Irwin heard those words from his trainer, he believed them.

Motion's honesty was one of the things that drew Irwin to him and eventually led the owner to ask the trainer to work with his horses on a private basis.

"I was tired of trainers lying to me," Irwin said. "I wanted a guy who would tell me the truth and Graham was that guy."

Irwin, who has been involved in racing since the late 1970s, said Motion is special, almost as special as their horse that went home with roses on Saturday.

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