NEW YORK (AP) — The priorities for Graham Motion haven’t changed — family first, everything else follows. And that includes Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
He has won big races before in 18 years as a trainer, including a couple at the Breeders’ Cup with Better Talk Now and Shared Account and a Whitney Handicap with Bullsbay.
Never, though, has the good-natured 47-year-old Englishman been through a Triple Crown grind like the one that will end with Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, when he sends out his Derby winner against Preakness winner Shackleford and 10 other 3-year-olds.
Despite his unforgettable journey through Kentucky, Maryland and New York, Motion refuses to let the hectic pace get to him. Even family and friends say so.
“His mother and I are extraordinarily proud of him, and through it all he’s been determined to spend as much time as possible with his family,” his father, Michael Motion, said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. “What he’s accomplished is absolutely amazing.”
Just the other day, for example, the trainer left Belmont Park and returned home to Fair Hill, Md., where he attended Tuesday’s middle school graduation of his daughter, Jane.
It was a family affair, and Michael Motion said the keynote speaker’s family centered remarks reminded him of his son, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center instead of at a racetrack just so he can spend as much time as possible with his wife, Anita, Jane, and son Marcus.
“Graham has really got this way of life about him,” said his father, who was an international bloodstock agent for 40 years.
Fellow trainer David Donk, who has known Motion for 13 years, couldn’t agree more. Their families are close, they spend time together at Fair Hill and Saratoga, and Motion not only stables his horses at Donk’s barn when they run in New York, he also bunks at his house less than a mile from Belmont.
“He’s got a really good staff, a great wife and goes home to his kids at night,” Donk said. “He’s got a beautiful, quiet demeanor. He’ll tell you he hasn’t slept as well last month but at same time I think he is trying to enjoy it and let it soak it in.”
Donk recalled Motion’s post-Derby comments following his return to Fair Hill.
“He kept telling everyone he didn’t want to talk about the Preakness,” Donk said. “‘I want to enjoy this for a few days’ he said. He didn’t want to get tense and bothered about the next race.”
As a trainer, there’s not much you can do to avoid it. You have a big horse in a big race, and the pressure builds.
“If you’re playing in the World Series or in the Super Bowl, you can be calm and collected,” Donk said, “but when you get in game mode — until you saddle the horse and it’s out of your hands — you are always anticipating, trying to catch things before anything goes wrong.”
Through it all, Motion has discovered a satisfying balance between a seven-day-a-week profession and making time for his family. And while he’s handled more media request than he’s ever dreamed of since winning the Derby, he starting to sound like he’s ready for the roller-coaster ride to end — for a little while, anyway.
After watching Animal Kingdom’s workout Monday, Motion reflected on the past two months.
“Every week has been different,” he said. “First, it was going from winning the Wood Memorial with Toby’s Corner to having him get hurt and not be able to run in the Derby. Then there was the thrill of winning the Derby with Animal Kingdom and the pressure of wanting to win the Preakness. Then we had the disappointment of not winning and having the pressure suddenly off.
“Plenty of sleepless nights,” he added with a smile, “and I’ve always been a good sleeper.”
At least most of those sleepless nights have been at home.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)