Kentucky Derby

John Clay: Motion hoping for Derby repeat

John Velazquez rode Went the Day Well to victory in the Spiral Stakes at  Turfway Park. The Graham Motion-trained horse has raced just five times.
John Velazquez rode Went the Day Well to victory in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. The Graham Motion-trained horse has raced just five times. Jim Osborn

LOUISVILLE — Graham Motion is following the same path, working for the same owner, running a horse with similar credentials.

And yet, this time around, the Kentucky Derby feels so much different.

"It's different because you've already won it," said the trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. "I never thought I'd win this race. So to come in it as a previous winner, it's a very different feeling than I've had before."

A comfortable feeling?

"Very, he said. "I'm trying to feel like Baffert and Zito. Like it's an everyday thing."

It's a joke, an understated one for an understated trainer. The 47-year old English native and Fair Hill, Md., resident isn't one to blow his own horn, or permit the distinction of being a Derby-winning trainer change all that much about him.

That includes his plan. Last year, Motion and Team Valor International came to Churchill Downs off a win in the Spiral Stakes and Animal Kingdom rewrote the stats books.

Animal Kingdom was the first horse with four or fewer starts to win the Derby since 1918, the first horse to win off a six-week layoff since 1956 and the first in the Derby's history to win without a previous start on dirt.

"I can't believe it's been a year," Motion said on Saturday.

Now Motion is back with Went the Day Well, also owned by Team Valor, along with co-owner Mark Ford. The son of Proud Citizen has raced just five times, is coming off a six-week layoff and, in its previous race, won Turfway Park's Spiral Stakes.

"After achieving what we achieved last year, I don't feel any pressure," Motion said. "I feel very good about running this horse. I feel he belongs in this race."

Not just because he won the same race that Animal Kingdom won. In fact, Motion said there are not a lot of similarities between the two.

"Other than they are both a little immature," he said.

Went the Day Well has run on dirt. After starting his career in England with a pair of second-place finishes in turf races, the horse shipped to the U.S. and ran fourth at Gulfstream Park.

Motion was encouraged, however. The horse had run like a typical European, breaking slow from the gate. It finished out well enough Motion entertained the idea of shipping to New York for the Gotham Stakes.

"I took him to the airport to go to New York, and we pulled him back at the last minute," Motion said. "Then we decided to run him in the maiden race (which he won) at Gulfstream. It worked out."

Picking the Vinery Spiral Stakes for his next start had as much to do with availability as Animal Kingdom's successful path. There was an open spot. It appeared to be a race the horse could win. And he did.

"What's the chance of that working out two years in a row?" Motion said. "It's crazy, really."

Named for a British World War II movie, Went The Day Well had two good works at Keeneland, but his best work came Saturday over Churchill's dirt.

In fact, Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor, called it the horse's "best work."

"I feel even better after watching him work," agreed Motion on Saturday.

That doesn't mean he will win Saturday. Only one trainer gets to give the winning rider a leg up.

In the 52 weeks since Animal Kingdom's win, has winning the Derby felt like a life-changing experience?

"Certainly, anytime you can achieve what is probably one of the toughest things to win in any career or any sport or any profession, any time you've achieved that, it's extremely satisfying," said Motion. "But day-to-day it hasn't changed anything. My wife still chases me around."

To the winner go some spoils, however. Saturday night, Motion was given the ceremonial honor of turning on the lights for the racing at Churchill. "Yes," he said that morning. "I've got one more week to live on this."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader