For the most part trainers are seen as the villains in the world of horse racing. Every Triple Crown season there is a new character that enters into the media spotlight as a shady, double dealing, back stabber, who puts his brilliant thoroughbreds in harm’s way by shooting them up with PEDs and painkillers. This past season’s bad boy was Doug O’Neil, the gregarious, hard drinking ‘ every man’ who seemed to weave his way through press conferences with an affable humbleness. It wasn’t until the bizarre series of events of the Belmont Stakes, and the abrupt withdrawal of I’ll Have Another that most people saw into his behavior of questionable decisions, and drug suspensions, add to that a harsh veterinary report of I’ll Have Another’s physical soundness.
Since the running of the Belmont Stakes, there have been a barrage of injuries and retirements that continue to put these trainers in a harsh light. Rather than running down the litany of unscrupulous trainers that we are all too aware of, let’s highlight some true horsemen who don’t get enough attention for their craft.
With the Breeders’ Cup coming up in three weeks, these trainers have done a superb job in bringing their talented thoroughbreds’ along to get them ready when it counts.
Graham Motion– After coming out of nowhere to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom was put on the shelf following a nightmare trip in the Belmont Stakes. After returning this year with an impressive win on the turf down at Gulfstream Park, the son of Leroidesanimaux came up lame with a fractured ilium. Graham Motion has a great reputation as an excellent trainer who doesn’t rush his horses into races; he keeps a low profile by working his horses out at his own facility Herringswell Stables. With a style reminiscent of European trainers, Motion works on an open pasture setting with strength building up hill runs on a less stressful synthetic surface. Graham races his horses on their terms, sticking to the old adage in horse racing of, “the horse tells us when he wants to run.”
Well earlier this week Animal Kingdom must have spoken up. On Tuesday, Motion announced that the Derby winner will make his first start in 10 months in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Yes, either the Breeders Cup will serve as a prep race for an allowance race at Gulfstream Park which is highly unlikely, or this may be shaping up to be a classic training job. That is if Animal Kingdom runs a big race, against top competition without a prep race.
Barclay Tagg- Of course with the Breeders’ Cup being the best of the best, there will be other great stories of horsemanship. After making a winning move in the G1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga, many wise guy trip handicappers noted that Jersey Town did it on a rail that was dead that day. Despite finishing a fading third, it was still seen as a sure sign that the six year old son of Speightstown was back in form. In his following race, the G2 Kelso, Jersey Town did not disappoint, scoring a convincing win at 8-1.
It was a long road for Jersey Town in getting back to the winners circle, the last time he got his picture taken was in the 2010 Cigar Mile. Trainer Barclay Tagg certainly deserves his share of credit for his patient handling with the horse. Since that big win in the Cigar Mile, Jersey Town has been battling a series of foot problems that have held him back from his previous form.
Mike Hushion-For most owners and trainers, the temptation to stretch your super talented three year old colt to get the distance required for the Triple Crown is irresistible. Who knows if you will ever have a horse that good again, so there is an obligation to throw him into those waters to see what happens. After the Lumber Guy won impressively in the Jerome Stakes, trainer Mike Hushion must have felt a second itch to get his horse in the Peter Pan Stakes; a prep race for the Belmont Stakes, run at a mile and an eighth. The first itch was in the Wood Memorial; a two turn prep for the Kentucky Derby. In both races the son of Grand Slam proved his preference for running at a high level in anything under a mile, finishing 6th and 5th respectively.
After that strong early season showing, Hushion decided to rest his colt for a late season bid, and to ensure his health as the three year old was still growing into himself. In an interview with DRF’s David Grening, Hushion had this to say regarding the layoff, “He’s always been a horse with rough feet. We just thought we’d give him a month on the farm playing around and let his feet grown out a little bit.”
So after that rest and a series of good workouts, Hushion and owner Barry Schwartz decided to get him back in the game with a run in the G1 Vosburgh. The connections were rewarded with an impressive open length victory, earning a gaudy 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. Now the decision remains what race should the Lumber Guy run in at the Breeders Cup, the mile or the sprint? The deciding factor for Hushion may be that the mile at Santa Anita is a two turn race, which plays against his strength.