08/10/2016 10:10AM

Fair Hill Training Center has Olympic feel


It is more than 4,800 miles from the tranquil Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., to boisterous Rio de Janeiro, where the eyes of the sports world are focused on the Olympic Games this week. But Thoroughbred racing has a closer connection to those goings-on than one might think, as a trio of Olympians, including two considered favorites in their respective sports at these Games, spend a significant amount of time at Fair Hill.

Baltimore native Michael Phelps, who had 25 career Olympic medals in swimming through Tuesday’s action in Rio, is the most accomplished Olympian of all time. Not content to dominate only one sport, Phelps began buying into Thoroughbreds several years ago, along with his coach, Bob Bowman, also a Baltimore native and a longtime racing enthusiast.

The duo was part of the Team Valor partnership involved with Pimlico stakes winner Cerro; today, they purchase horses as Charm City Racing, a nod to their hometown. Their equine investments are also a nod to their shared profession; Water Cube was named for the swimming arena where Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, while By a Hundreth’s name refers to Phelps’s narrow margin of victory in one of those races to keep his quest alive.

The Charm City string is based at Fair Hill with trainer Graham Motion, and it is through that trainer that Phelps became connected to another Olympian. Equestrian Phil Dutton won Olympic gold twice for his native Australia in eventing – commonly described as an equestrian triathlon – before switching nationalities to ride for his adopted country, earning individual bronze for the U.S. this week. Dutton, who owns a Pennsylvania farm about half an hour from Fair Hill, is good friends with Motion and is now part of the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership that campaigns Grade 1 winner Ring Weekend with the trainer.

A major advocate for off-the-track Thoroughbreds in second careers, Dutton’s current mounts include Icabad Crane, whom Motion saddled to finish third in the 2008 Preakness Stakes, and Commanding Curve, the 2014 Kentucky Derby runner-up. The relationships between Phelps and Motion and Dutton and Motion proved beneficial to all, as the latest addition to Dutton’s string of eventing prospects is Water Cube.

Meanwhile, the Olympian club continues to grow at Fair Hill, as Bode Miller, a decorated gold medalist in skiing, last year finalized the purchase of a barn that is across the training center’s main road from Motion’s base. Miller has about a dozen horses in training with Fair Hill-based Tres Abbott and eventually would like to take out a trainer’s license in his own name.

Miller, of course, is best known in racing for his close friendship with trainer Bob Baffert, whose youngest son is named Bode and was the namesake of Grade 1 winner Bodemeister. Miller and Baffert’s wife, Jill, raced the stakes winner Carving in partnership.

:: Enjoy news and analysis from DRF? Get handicapping analysis, real-time coverage, special reports, and charts. Unlock access with DRF Plus.