ELKTON, Md. — The happiest man at the end of the Kentucky Derby when long shot Animal Kingdom crossed the finish line didn't even have a winning ticket in his pocket. But trainer Graham Motion didn't need any extra money to be "over the moon" about his horse winning the biggest race in the world.
"If I was clever, I probably would've had a bet," Motion said. "But I'm not a particularly shrewd gambler."
Regardless, the 46-year-old's life has changed immensely in the short time since May 7 at Churchill Downs when he captured his first Kentucky Derby. Winning the Run for the Roses - the first jewel of the Triple Crown - was "fairy tale stuff," he said.
"I think a lot of what's involved in the Derby is fairy tale," Motion said Monday morning at Fair Hill Training Center. "It's almost an unreasonable goal to set out to win, because it's so high - so many things have to align to win the Derby that I think it's unfair to kind of put that pressure on yourself that you want to win the Derby. Everybody wants to win the Derby, just so many things have to line up. For us, I just feel like it was fate - it was our turn."
Now, Motion and Animal Kingdom turn their attention to Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. It's a return to everyday life for the British-born, Maryland-based trainer. In fact, it took five days after the Derby for his wife, Anita, to go grocery shopping.
Animal Kingdom's victory as a 21-1 underdog certainly was "life-changing," Motion admitted, but the man who has been a mainstay in Maryland for almost 20 years hasn't changed his approach. Motion still is a down-to-earth guy at the racetrack watching his horses - without the glitz and attention of some of the sport's more high-profile trainers.
"He just doesn't have the profile of a [Bob] Baffert, and he doesn't have that snappy camera action. He's very humble and very understated," Cricket Goodall of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association said. "But he's very good at what he does."
The Kentucky Derby was Motion's first Triple Crown victory, but he's not new at this game. Motion won 30 stakes races previously, including the 2010 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Shared Account and the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf with arguably his best horse, Better Talk Now.
Still, it was surprising to Motion given that Animal Kingdom's only previous wins came on turf and synthetic surfaces. And it was by far the highlight of the trainer's career.
"After the race it was elation, it was amazing," he said. "To walk down from the box down to the winner's circle to the infield was an extraordinary feeling."
The Derby can be considered a reward of sorts for Motion, whose bad luck even as recently as the week leading up to the race included contender Toby's Corner getting hurt and jockey Robby Albarado needing to be hospitalized after he was thrown off another horse. And it's a reward for 20 years in the industry, spent mostly in Maryland.
Motion was born in England in 1964 but moved to the United States when he was 16. At first, he worked with Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard in Pennsylvania and after a short stint in Bowie became an assistant to Bernie Bond at Pimlico. Upon Bond's death in 1993, Motion became a full-time trainer and moved closer to Washington at Laurel Park.
While he spent a summer training in Chantilly, France, Motion said a lot of talk since the Derby about his European techniques is overstated. He has become something of a local boy done good - and as close to a Maryland racing success story as there has been in a while.
"I have a very strong attachment with Maryland and everybody in Maryland," Motion said. "But to go to the Preakness with a Derby winner, that's pretty special."
As for the idea of being two wins away from the Triple Crown, Motion knows he's going to feel the pressure - there hasn't been one since Affirmed in 1978 - but he's trying not to get caught up in the hype. Instead, he'll go about his business as usual.
"I don't even want to think about it," Motion said. "I'm excited to go to the Preakness with a Derby winner - that's something I never expected to do in my lifetime. That's a thrill as it is. Obviously, you have to think about the Triple Crown, but I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on myself."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.