05/05/2011 11:54AM

Kentucky Derby: Motion looks for bright spot after tough week

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Graham Motion will sadle his third Kentucky Derby starter, Animal Kingdom, on Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Graham Motion’s first two Kentucky Derby experiences were so thoroughly miserable that he was in no rush to get back to Churchill Downs to participate in the world’s most famous horse race. Thus far, the third time has not been the charm.

Motion hadn’t even arrived in town before his third trip to the Derby was marred with the news that Toby’s Corner, winner of the April 9 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, went lame in his left hind leg on Monday, forcing him to skip Saturday’s 137th Kentucky Derby. Though he will still be represented in the race by Animal Kingdom, Motion on Wednesday morning still couldn’t shake the “gut-wrenching” feeling of losing Toby’s Corner.

“When you still have a horse to run in the Derby and a filly to run in the Oaks [Summer Soiree] that you think are contenders and generally you still have a sense of disappointment, that’s a pretty strong emotion,” Motion said.

When it comes to the Derby, Motion has been disappointed before.

KENTUCKY DERBY DAY: Past performances, contender profiles, and video

In 1998, he ran Chilito, who was so ornery prior to the race that in the paddock he wanted to mount the horse next to him. Sent off at odds of 34-1, Chilito finished 11th, 27 1/2 lengths behind Real Quiet. In 2008, Motion returned to the Derby with Adriano, a turf-and-synthetic specialist who, at odds of 28-1, finished 19th, 50 3/4 lengths behind Big Brown.

“My two Derby experiences have not been that great,” Motion said. “When I ran with Adriano, I kind of made up my mind I wouldn’t do this unless the horse really took me there. I felt like I could go a long time before it would happen.”

On paper, Animal Kingdom looks similar to Adriano in that they are both horses who have excelled over turf or synthetic surfaces. Animal Kingdom has never raced on dirt. Motion believes what might set Animal Kingdom apart from Adriano is his build and his brilliance.

“Animal Kingdom, if I have to compare the two, is a really powerful, robust extremely impressive workhorse,” Motion said. “I think that’s where the difference lies.”

Animal Kingdom, who won the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes, didn’t cement his Derby status until a week ago. He worked a solid six furlongs over the Churchill dirt surface under jockey Robby Albarado, who was named to ride Animal Kingdom in the Derby but was replaced by John Velazquez on Friday after Albarado suffered a broken nose Wednesday.

“I just think he’s a brilliant horse, I’m hoping he’s one of those that can crossover between both surfaces,” Motion said. “I brought a horse over before like Chilito who was a very good horse that mentally was going the wrong way. Adriano was a good performer, but not a very good workhorse where I could get a handle on him.”

The week of the 1998 Derby, Chilito wasn’t a very good workhorse either. Winner of the Grade 3 Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah, Chilito got to Churchill Downs well in advance of the Derby and had two workouts prior to Derby week. But on the Monday of Derby week, in what was to be his final and most important breeze, Chilito went six furlongs in a pokey 1:17.80. So poor was the move that Motion literally sent the horse back to the track the next day to work again.

“That day I went to breeze him and he pulled up at the eighth pole I’m thinking ‘what the heck do I go back and tell these guys?’ ” Motion said, referring to his owners. “I didn’t feel like I could send him right back out, so I did get Willie Martinez to work him the next day, and he worked fine. It was not an easy experience.”

On Tuesday, this Derby experience became harder. Motion could take solace in the fact that last year trainer Todd Pletcher lost his top horse, Eskendereya, one week prior to the Derby and won the race anyway with Super Saver. But Motion doesn’t think that way.

“I don’t expect to win those races, you hope to be competitive, I don’t allow myself to think about winning them,” Motion said.