Graham Motion overseeing the training of his string at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
The winner of more than 280 stakes races, including the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, Graham Motion is one of the most well-known trainers in the United States. But Motion also is known for his efforts in finding his horses new careers after they are done racing.
In addition to being a major contributor to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, this year Motion has played a part in showing people how easily a racehorse can adapt to a new career.
Last year, Motion and his wife, Anita, “bought” Icabad Crane, a Motion-trainee and the 2008 Preakness Stakes third-place finisher, from owner Earle Mack for $1 when it was decided to retire the gelding. Icabad Crane was put in training with three-day event gold medalist Phillip Dutton later that year and Motion’s Herringswell Stables has been allowing the gelding’s fans to track his progress with Dutton with updates on Facebook and through the stable’s YouTube page, which also features videos of other parts of stable life as well, in addition to a blog on This Is Horse Racing.
GRAHAM AND ANITA MOTION
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Icabad Crane already has had success in his first few events, and in May it was announced that he will tackle another challenge in the America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred contest. Icabad Crane will represent the change from racehorse to eventer in the contest, in which he will be competing against nine other Thoroughbreds transitioning into new careers from ranch work to fox hunting.
Fans and judges both will play a role in who wins the $10,000 prize when the competitors perform at the Retired Racehorse Project’s National Symposium on Oct. 4-5.
Recently, Motion sat down with America’s Best Racing to talk about everything from 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now to what he’d like to see changed in racehorse aftercare. To learn more about Graham and his Herringswell Stables, you can click here.
Has aftercare always interested you? Why is it important to you?
It is something I have always been aware of. As I’ve gone on in my career, I’ve become more aware and I’ve been more in a position to do something about it and contribute to it. We gain so much from these animals, so I feel a certain responsibility towards the animals for that reason.
SOME OF HERRINGSWELL STABLES' RETIRED RACEHORSES IN THEIR NEW CAREERS
What do you think of recent aftercare efforts taken by the racing industry? Have you seen the popularity of retired racehorses change at all as aftercare efforts have increased?
I think, in general, everyone has really stepped up and become much more aware of it. I think people certainly give us a lot of praise for what we’re doing [retraining Icabad Crane]. But I think a lot of people in the business are doing this, we’re certainly not the only ones. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things out there whether they are owners, breeders or trainers. I think everyone is much more involved than they used to be and I think that’s a good thing, obviously.
What about recent aftercare efforts taken by the performance horse world, such as the America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred contest and other showcases?
I think all of these are great ideas to bring more awareness towards [aftercare]. I think any movement like this is a huge help to make everybody aware of it.
What made you decide to take part in the America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred contest with Phillip Dutton and Icabad Crane?
My wife and I had always wanted to do something with Phillip and [his wife] Evie in this regard. It’s something my wife had thought about quite a long time ago, and Icabad Crane just seemed like the perfect horse to pursue it with. He’s a pretty well-known horse, he was an older horse with a tremendous disposition and he didn’t have a career-ending injury. We just felt that it was time to call it a career for him. [Icabad Crane’s racing owner] Earle Mack was gracious enough to give him to my wife to pursue this. So it just was kind of the perfect scenario.
We’d actually sent several horses to Phillip before that hadn’t worked out, so we found them different careers. But this was a horse that we always really believed would be a perfect fit for what Phillip does, and obviously with Phillip being involved, you’re dealing with one of the best, perhaps the best, three-day event riders in the country and a well-known person who would bring more attention to it.
PHILLIP DUTTON AND ICABAD CRANE
Photo by Maggie Kimmitt
How did you and Anita decide to send Icabad Crane, and some of your other retired Thoroughbreds, to an eventing trainer instead of another discipline?
It’s more about the connection with Phillip, I guess. We’ve certainly had horses that have gone to do dressage through other people and show jumping and also fox hunting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the scale that Phillip competes. I think that just brings more attention to it.
Has Icabad’s success in his first few months of eventing surprised you?
We really believed that he would take to it and certainly think that he has surprised Phillip with how easily he’s handled things. I’m not particularly experienced [in eventing], so I’m learning as I go along, but I certainly realize that Phillip is somewhat surprised at how quickly he has adapted.
Do you see him as a good equine ambassador for what Thoroughbreds can do after their race careers?
I do. I think he’s got a catchy name, he’s a well-known horse, and he was a favorite horse when he was running because he was a hard-nosed New York-bred, so I think he was just the perfect fit to bring attention to what we were trying to do.
DUTTON SCHOOLING ICABAD CRANE OVER A JUMP
Why would you recommend a retired racehorse to someone looking for a show horse or even just a riding horse?
I’m not particularly experienced with different breeds, but I know how gentle racehorses are. I think most of them, once you get them away from the racetrack life and they are turned out 24 hours or even 12 hours, they just become much more amenable to doing things like this, so I think they are very adaptable. I really haven’t had anyone send a horse back to us and say that they couldn’t do what they were trying to do with it. Most horses really adapt to what you ask them to do, they are remarkable in that aspect.
What advice would you give to someone who just bought a retired racehorse from the track?
I think anyone who takes on an ex-racehorse just needs to be patient and give them time to adapt. Icabad is a quick study in it but not all horses are going to adapt as quickly as he has. I think some horses for whatever reason, whether it is from an injury or just being wound up from being on the racetrack, I think some horses just need time to get away from the atmosphere that they are used to and settle down. That would probably be the biggest advice I would give.
What do you do, if anything, in your training to make the transition from racehorse to potential riding horse easier for your racehorses?
I don’t think we do anything in particular. It just so happens that we do turn out most of our horses at Fair Hill [Training Center], so they are used to that. I’m sure that does help to some degree but I don’t think we do anything with [transitioning] in mind.
BETTER TALK NOW DURING HIS RACING CAREER
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
In Better Talk Now’s case, did you attempt to transition him to a new career?
He was a little bit of an exception to the rule. First of all, he was so successful and he was so much part of my success that I felt tremendously responsible for him when his career was over. He was already a 10-year-old and the owners didn’t have a farm of their own, so Anita and I always said that when he was retired, he’d always have a place with us.
He was also a horse who was not particularly nice to ride; he was always very difficult, very quirky, (laughs) not a particularly nice horse to be around. So it was a situation where, probably the opposite of Icabad Crane, we always knew he would be a hard horse to place. We just thought he would really appreciate staying in the routine. He enjoyed his routine and he was 10 years old. I think sometimes it is hard for horses to be taken away from that, so that’s kind of what we’ve tried to do and he’s done very well with it.
What was his personality as a racehorse? How has he changed since he retired?
He hasn’t changed very much; he’s still not very friendly. He likes to be in a routine, every time we try to change something, he doesn’t handle it very well. But he’s pretty cantankerous still.
What is his daily routine?
First thing in the morning, he and [Motion’s first stakes winner] Gala Spinaway go on a horse walker for about 15 to 20 minutes. Depending on the time of year and how they are doing, we might give them a little jog. After they’ve done that, they’ll get turned out in the paddock pretty much all morning until about feed time then they’ll come in. They very much get to see everything that is going on and I think they enjoy that, they see the horses going out to train and they have a pretty good life.
BETTER TALK NOW (lefT) AND GALA SPINAWAY IN THEIR PASTURE
Photo by Maggie Kimmitt
What does Better Talk Now mean to you?
I probably use the phrase too much, but he was incredibly generous. He was such a hard-trying, hard-knocking racehorse and from my career point of view, he took me to a new level. When he won the Breeders’ Cup [Turf in 2004], that was what really sold me to international owners, and I think that is sort of when our stable turned a corner. I feel incredibly grateful, and it just so happens that he’s turned out every day with Gala Spinaway, who was another horse that did a great deal for my career. He was my first ever stakes winner, so I think those two horses, and obviously Animal Kingdom, are without a doubt the three most influential horses on my career.
With the popularity of aftercare increasing, where would you like to see aftercare efforts going in the future?
What I feel most strongly about is that the retirement [facilities] should be kind of a last resort. So many people out there, especially in the area that we train in, are looking for racehorses for new careers. So to me, the actual retirement homes where the horses go to the facilities to be turned out, they should kind of be a last resort when you can’t place a horse. I think that is perhaps what I feel most strongly about, I guess I wouldn’t want everyone to have the mentality of ‘oh, we’re going to retire this horse, we’ll send it to a retirement home.’ I think everyone can do their bit by actually trying to place the horses rather than just sending them to a retirement facility. [Aftercare facilities] are often over-budgeted and very full.
MOTION WATCHES ANIMAL KINGDOM TRAIN BEFORE THE 2011 PREAKNESS STAKES
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Why should racing fans support Thoroughbred aftercare?
I think we all owe a little piece of it. Certainly, if you want to cut it down, we actually make a living from these horses that give us so much. So I think everyone should to some degree feel responsibility [for the horses]. The fans certainly get the pleasure out of the racing, whether it is just as a spectator or from a betting point of view. But I think everybody can do their little piece towards it since they give us so much pleasure. And if nothing else, just to be responsible.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The other thing that we’ve tried to do and my secretary has tried to do in the office is put a sticker on horses’ papers so that people know the horses haven’t been bred for slaughter. It has our phone number on there so if anyone finds a horse in a compromising position or someone doesn’t want a horse anymore, they know that rather than selling it in an auction, we’re very happy to take the horse back. I think that is something people are doing more and more and it’s all about responsibility. I think we all have a responsibility, whether we are owners, trainers, or jockeys, we all owe the horses for what we are doing and where we are at in our lives.