Barn Tour: Motion on what's next for Spendarella, other talent

Barn Tour: Motion on what's next for Spendarella, other talent
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

As he rattled off status updates on some of the proven runners currently in his care, trainer Graham Motion quipped in his typical humble manner that he “wished there were more” for him to discuss.

Having an overflow of talent is the perpetual hope of every horseman worth their salt. And despite his modest assessment, Motion is well aware of, and thankful for, the fact he can look down his Fair Hill-based shedrow and see an abundance of potential filling his stalls.

It already has been a productive 2022 season for the Motion, one that has seen the native of Cambridge, England, make his first appearance as a finalist on the Hall of Fame ballot and nearly double the amount of graded-stakes victories he earned the entirely of last year.

Even when his multiple graded-stakes winning charge Spendarella suffered her first career loss by finishing second in the June 17 Coronation Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, Motion found himself being feted for saddling the best performance by an American-based runner during this year’s prestigious meet.

“First of all, I was shocked at the reaction, you know, to have so many accolades for finishing second,” Motion said of Spendarella’s overseas venture. "We were a well-beaten second but I was obviously very proud of how she ran and I think she was very brave. It’s hard in terms of trying to duplicate the conditions they have to run over there, over here and I think I learned something, a little bit, which I do every time I go over there. But I was super proud of her. I think she proved she’s a serious filly.”

Spendarella’s triumphs in the Herecomesthebride (G3) and Appalachian Stakes (G2) earlier this year account for two of the five graded-stakes victories Motion’s trainees have earned so far this season, and the daughter of Karakontie has pleasantly stunned her conditioner in terms of how quickly she has climbed up the barn’s depth chart.

Owned and bred by Gainesway, the 3-year-old bay filly didn’t debut until this February, winning at Gulfstream Park first time out, but has handled every step up in class asked of her.

“She has surprised me every time she’s ran, I think that’s fair to say,” Motion said. “The first thing (jockey) William (Buick) said to me after the (Coronation Stakes) is she’s definitely Grade 1 caliber and she’s a miler, and I think he’s probably right.

“I think the Del Mar Oaks (G1, Aug. 20) and the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1, Oct. 15 at Keeneland) are logical,” Motion continued. "Obviously we have to hope that she gets 1 1/8 miles to go on for the next one. I think she will over here on the firm turf. If we go back to Europe, I think we’ll stay at a mile but I think over here, hopefully she’ll get the 1 1/8 miles because there aren’t many opportunities against 3-year-old fillies to run over a mile, so you’re pretty limited really in that respect.”

With the Del Mar, Saratoga and Colonial Downs meets each on the horizon, Motion shared who else from his barn might make some noise in the coming months.

Highland Chief. The Ireland-bred son of Gleneagles came to Motion last fall after making his first nine starts in England and won the Man o’ War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on May 14. The 5-year-old bay horse was most recently fourth in the Manhattan Stakes (G1) on June 11.

“He’s done great, very happy with him,” Motion said. “I was a little concerned running him back in the Manhattan because it came just a month after winning the Man o’ War, which was a huge step up for him class-wise and speed rating-wise. So I knew it was a bit of a gamble. I thought he actually performed admirably. I know he was fourth beaten four lengths, but I think he proved he’s a solid Grade 1 caliber horse. He’ll probably go to the United Nations (G1, July 23 at Monmouth) or the Bowling Green (G2, July 31 at Saratoga). Those would be the logical spots.

“We considered going to Dubai with him but we just thought it was too much right off the bat. Obviously I’ve had some cool success with horses coming from Europe – you’re being handed a ready-made package, if you like, but I’ve been somewhat surprised by him. He’s not the most flashy work horse in the morning, he’s kind of a nervous horse in the morning. But he’s very classy and a very different horse in the afternoon.”

Sy Dog. A homebred for Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, the 3-year-old son of Slumber should be showing up in what figures to be a competitive edition of the July 9 Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park. Sy Dog won the Transylvania Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on April 8 before finishing third last time out in the May 7 American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.

"I thought we ran him back kind of quick,” Motion said. “He ran on the 8th of April and came back on the 7th of May, so he only had a month coming off a big race at Keeneland. But there really wasn’t anywhere else to go in the schedule. We either had to do that or sit on him for two months. I thought he ran well at Churchill, to be honest. Irad (Ortiz) let him run his race, he got third and was beaten two lengths. We kind of made our mind up after that that we’d point him to the Belmont Derby and every time I look up, it seems like that race is getting increasingly more difficult. So now I’m kind of second-guessing myself but he’s doing well, and I’m sure he’ll appreciate the distance. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

True Valour. At the ripe of the 8, the Ireland-bred son of Kodiac is still showing he can dash with the best of them as evidenced by his win in the King T. Leatherbury Stakes at Laurel Park on April 23 and third-place finish in the Jaipur Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 11.

“I can’t believe the speed this horse is showing this season as an 8-year-old,” Motion said. “He surprised me when he jumped to the lead first time out going 5 1/2 at Laurel. We kind of made our minds up after that race to point for the Jaipur, and I thought he ran admirably. We tossed out a few races but I think we’re going to point him for the Troy Stakes (G3, Aug. 5 at Saratoga) going back to 5 1/2 furlongs. He’s certainly shown the speed to handle it."

After starting his career overseas, True Valour raced primarily in California for trainer Simon Callaghan, winning the 2019 Thunder Road Stakes (G3) and City of Hope Mile (G2). He joined Motion’s barn after owner R. Larry Johnson purchased the veteran horse for $225,000 out of the 2020 Fasig-Tipton July Horses or Racing Age Sale.

“I can not believe this horse is 8 years old. He does not act like an 8-year-old,” Motion said. “He’s such a cool horse. He’s the first horse I see when I walk in the barn every morning. He’s right across from the office, and he can not wait to get out. I have to put him in the first set because he can not wait to get out, he wants to go out. A couple times I’ve planned to give him a few days off and my assistant will call and be like, ‘we really shouldn’t give this horse another day off.’ He’s just full of himself, he loves it.”

Wootton Asset. The France-bred winner of the New Kent County Virginia Derby (G3) last August recently returned to the work tab after being sidelined with a soft-tissue injury that occurred after the Twilight Derby (G2) last October.

“He’s had one easy breeze, I believe. So we’re just going to go steady with him,” Motion said. “I doubt we’ll see him before the fall at this point. He was going to run at Del Mar last year but he came up with the injury not long before the race.”

English Bee. Calumet Farm’s homebred graded-stakes winner is 2-for-2 at Colonial Downs, including a victory in the 2019 Virginia Derby, but has been hampered by an eye problem since his fifth-place finish in the May 21 Dinner Party Stakes (G2) at Pimlico Race Course.

“It’s a possibility (of going to Colonial) but we had a little setback with him,” Motion said. “We had an eye issue that we had to treat, and he goes back in for a checkup next week. He’s missed a few weeks training because of it, so we’ll see, but he definitely appreciates that track there. He’s had a bit of irritation in the eye and … the medication actually wasn’t taking care of it, so we had to do a little procedure. But it was basically an infection.”

Ouraika. The 3-year-old, France-bred daughter of Zelzal opened 2022 on strong note when she annexed the Sweet Life Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita in February but came out of her sixth-place finish in the May 28 Soaring Softly Stakes (G3) with soreness.

“She’s come up with an issue that we had to stop on her,” Motion said. “After her last race she was a little sore, nothing major. But we just feel like we have to give her some time.”

Divine Huntress. The Maryland-bred daughter of Divining Rod benefitted from the four-horse field in the Acorn Stakes (G1) on June 11, finishing second to earn her first bit of black type.

“She’ll probably run at Saratoga opening weekend in an overnight stake,” Motion said. “She’s kind of been a cool filly that I think is probably better than some of her races have shown.”

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