04/07/2008 12:00AM

Polytrack or turf, his horses click at Keeneland


Keeneland is a track that can quickly humble a trainer, particularly in the spring, when the track draws many of the best young horses in the country. Even if a trainer has good stock and comes ready with some top runners, so, too, do many other trainers, all hoping to capitalize on the track's lucrative purses.

It is not uncommon to see a top trainer go winless during the track's three-week meets, which makes Graham Motion's success at Keeneland all the more noteworthy.

Over the course of 11 race meets at Keeneland since 2003, Motion has always won at least one race. That includes the current meet. He won with 18-1 outsider Salinja in the eighth race last Saturday.

His record since 2003 at Keeneland is remarkable. Through April 6, Motion was 35-16-24 from 136 starters, translating to 26 percent winners and an in-the-money percentage of 74 percent. A $2 wager placed on each of his 136 runners over that stretch would have yielded an average return of $3.54.

Motion, 43, said he believes much of his success at Keeneland is related to how the track compiles its race cards.

"There are few meets left like Keeneland," he said. "When they write a race in the condition book, you know that, A, they are going to use it. And, B, if it's a turf race, more than likely it is going to stay on the grass. So you know what you're doing a long way out."

Motion also points to the quality and types of horses he trains for contributing to his winning history at Keeneland. Because so many come from grass backgrounds, many take to the grass and the Polytrack, the synthetic main-track surface in place at Keeneland since the fall of 2006.

His record with horses racing over synthetic surfaces is as impressive as his overall Keeneland numbers: 19 of his last 80 starters over such tracks have won, connecting at a 24 percent rate and generating a $2 ROI of $3.75.

Asked why his horses consistently perform so well on synthetic tracks, he again pointed to the composition of his stable.

"I train for a lot of breeders, those that have turf horses that trace back to European families," he said. "It's not anything I've clearly done."

That noted, Motion's method of training horses - which he said is modeled after the style of Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, for whom he was an assistant from 1985-1990 - is focused on getting horses to relax and finish strongly. Generally that is the style of running that is effective over synthetic tracks, which generally are less speed biased than those of dirt.

He also has the benefit of having a division of horses based at Fair Hill Training Center, which has a Tapeta synthetic surface.

Motion's training style has worked with young and older horses alike, with Adriano and Better Talk Now being two notable examples. Adriano won the this year's Lane's End Stakes for 3-year-olds over Turfway's Polytrack surface. The 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now won the Grade 1 Manhattan last year at age 8.

Still competing against the world's best as a 9-year-old, Better Talk Now is being given a break following his trip to Dubai, where he finished ninth in the Sheema Classic on March 29.

"We'll point for bringing him back in July, possibly in Canada, where they have a good series of stakes races on turf," he said.

In the meantime, Motion's focus is on Keeneland, and horseplayers that know his history there are wise to pay close attention to his starters.