10/28/2014 11:44AM

Hovdey: Main Sequence plays Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Barbara D. Livingston
Graham Motion will be looking for his second Breeders' Cup Turf win with Main Sequence.

Trying to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf with a horse based in North America is one of those “why bother?” endeavors. American runners usually end up high-class cannon fodder, reduced to chanting the mantra, “It’s an honor simply to be nominated.”

This was not always the case. Through its first 15 runnings, 1984-98, North American runners won the Turf nine times. Then something happened. In the 15 runnings since 1999, the Euros have slapped Americans silly. There have been 12 winners from abroad, which includes a share of the title from 2003, when Coolmore’s defending champion High Chaparral was part of a dead heat.

Daylami, Kalanisi, Fantastic Light, Shirocco, Red Rocks, Conduit, Dangerous Midge, St Nicholas Abbey, Magician – they descended upon the Turf without relent, winning at Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Arlington Park, and Gulfstream, in all conditions, over all terrain.

A few exceptions proved the cruel rule. Johar was the other half of the ’03 dead heat, running right out of his own stall at Richard Mandella’s Santa Anita barn. English Channel, tapping into his Mr. Prospector DNA, was the only horse in the field who could handle the Monmouth bog in 2007, while Little Mike, made mostly of heart and grit, turned back the challenge of fellow American Point of Entry and defending champ St Nicholas Abbey in 2012.

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“We’re playing their game for sure,” said Graham Motion, a native of Cambridge, England, who has spent his training career in the United States. “We don’t really want to go over there and take them on going a mile and a half because that’s what they do.”

Motion won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star Park with Better Talk Now, a lean, dark bay gelding who went off as the longest price in the eight-horse field and won a rough-and-tumble affair by nearly two lengths. Figuring he had the key to the puzzle, Motion proceeded to try Better Talk Now in the next four runnings of the Turf but could do no better than second in 2006 at Churchill Downs.

“We did keep trying,” Motion said. “One of my biggest disappointments was him finishing second in the race at Churchill. He would have really gone down in the history books had he won that day.”

:: BREEDERS’ CUP 2014: Post positions, comments, and odds

Since Better Talk Now is 15 and spends his time in a large paddock at Motion’s Fair Hill Training Center barn in Maryland, the trainer will be gunning for his second Turf win Saturday with the 5-year-old Main Sequence, bred and owned by the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings. The blaze-faced, chestnut gelding has made three starts in the United States and won three Grade 1 events over three different courses: the United Nations at Monmouth, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.

In a previous life, Main Sequence won four of 14 starts in England and France for trainer David Lanigan – the same David Lanigan who played host to Motion and his Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, when they were in England to run at the 2013 Royal Ascot meet.

Animal Kingdom got nothing, but Motion got to know Main Sequence, who was getting into his 4-year-old season after igniting high hopes at age 3. His finest hour was a second to Camelot in the Epsom Derby, but it had been a year since he’d won.

“I think he was a source of frustration for David because he knew what the horse was capable of,” Motion said. “Full credit to David, though. He thought the horse needed to do something different, and the rest is history.”

Better Talk Now had only one European to beat at Lone Star – Powerscourt – and he got help from an excited ride on the Irish colt by Jamie Spencer. In his four other Turf appearances, Better Talk Now faced a collection of imports more like the tough field lining up against Main Sequence on Saturday.

“Let’s face it,” Motion said, “the Europeans are a deeper group. The good ones have to run against each other all the time in Europe. There’s no place to hide, while we have a lot more options over here.”

So, that’s it? Horseplayers should just toss the best American runner in the Turf and punch Euro-all? Motion offered his most hopeful analysis of the opposition.

“History alone should have us shaking in our boots,” the trainer said. “But Flintshire is coming off the Arc, which is a tough thing to do. Magician seems like perhaps he’s not quite the horse he was. Then there’s Michael Stoute’s horse, Telescope, who’s very good, and Michael’s the master at doing this.

“Every trainer’s going to tell you their horse is doing great,” Motion added. “But I honestly feel our horse has done great since his last race. I do worry about his idiosyncrasies, though. The gate has always been a little bit of an issue, and it’s going to catch up with him one of these days. As the stakes get higher, the tougher it gets, and the fewer mistakes can be made.”

Main Sequence also will be getting a new jockey for the Turf, although hardly by choice. Rajiv Maragh, his only rider in the United States, has yet to return after breaking his arm in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 27.

“That’s a real kicker,” Motion said. “It’s huge to lose Rajiv. He’s got such a rapport with this horse. But I guess if you can’t have Rajiv and you end up with Johnny Velazquez, that’s not too bad.”