“Royal Ascot Is Right Up There With The Breeders' Cup And All The Biggest Meetings”

Graham Motion | Sarah Andrew


The weekly TDN Europe Q&A continues as Graham Motion, who will be bidding to make his Royal Ascot breakthrough with Spendarella (Karakontie {Jpn}) in the G1 Coronation S., sits down with Brian Sheerin. Motion, one of the leading trainers in America, reveals that William Buick has been booked to ride, how he feels the best is yet to come from Spendarella, as well as giving his views on industry topics.


Brian Sheerin: You have come close to Royal Ascot success in the past. Can Spendarella make the breakthrough for you next week?
Graham Motion: She has always been very straightforward and has handled everything since she won [the GII Appalachian S.] at Keeneland. I had a plan in my head going there that, if she ran well, we would take a shot at Royal Ascot but didn't think it made sense to give her another run before then as she's already run three times this year. With that in mind, I think she has done well and we're hopeful.


BS: Wesley Ward is putting his faith in Irad Ortiz, Jr., who will ride all of his horses at the royal meeting. Would you prefer to book a European rider who has knowledge of the track over someone who has ridden your filly and knows her well?
GM: It's something I think about a lot and I guess I have done it both ways in the past. I thought Tyler Gaffalione rode her great last time and Jose Ortiz had ridden her before but is due to ride Pizza Bianca (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) in the Coronation S. William Buick became available at the last entry stage and I just felt that, if I could get William or Frankie, who are two of the top guys in Europe, it just gives you a little advantage to have someone familiar with the course.


BS: It works both ways and we see that when the European trainers travel their horses to the Breeders' Cup and enlist the help of the top U.S. jockeys.
GM: Yes, and Ascot is a very tricky track. I remember the first time I walked the track before we ran Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}) in the G1 Queen Anne S. back in 2013 and I thought the mile-and-a-quarter course was pretty daunting. I love the one-turn mile for the fillies but it is a steady climb all the way up the hill so it does give you an edge to have someone with familiarity of the track. But look, all these riders, they travel so much that we are splitting hairs a little bit but at this level, it's split second-stuff, and you have to leave no stone unturned.


BS: You have travelled horses all over the world. Is there a right way to do things? I know a lot of the American horses are flying in a little later than usual this year.
GM: I have done it both ways. When I brought Animal Kingdom over, he came straight from Dubai so would have spent a good couple of months in England and the result wasn't great. I'm not knocking that process but I do like to travel closer to the race. Spendarella actually left on Tuesday morning but we are a little bit in the hands of the airlines and don't have a lot of control. Ideally, I like to get all my work done in America but, because she travelled over on Tuesday, she's going to have to do some work next week. That makes things a little bit more complicated as you are doing work on an unfamiliar surface and in unfamiliar surroundings. My philosophy is to try and keep things as simple as possible.

BS: Where will you be based for your time in England?
GM: We are going to be at the National Stud in Newmarket. We have stayed in Bjorn Neilsen's yard in Lambourn before, which was tremendous, but the last time we came with Sharing (Speightstown), everything was quite complicated because of COVID and we chose to go to Newmarket along with Wesley's horses. It worked really well. It's very quiet on that side of Newmarket and, for us, one of the big things we look for is a gallop that is not too dramatically uphill as our horses are not used to doing that. We like to try a pretty level surface to train on and we thought it worked out pretty well with Sharing.


BS: Sharing was sent off a 16-5 chance before finishing second in the Coronation S. two years ago. Spendarella is available at odds as big as 10-1 in places for the same race. Is that a fair reflection of her chances comparable to Sharing's in 2020?
GM: I have been asked to compare the two fillies and it's quite a hard thing to do as Sharing was quite accomplished at this stage of her career having won at the Breeders' Cup the previous year. Spendarella has come around quite a bit later than her, but she has done nothing wrong and keeps on improving. To answer your question, I think 10-1 is a very fair price. Herself and Pizza Bianca (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), who is probably a bit more established having won at the Breeders' Cup, have similar chances.


BS: It's a pretty obvious thing to say but I think you feel the best is still to come from this filly?
GM: She keeps on improving. I have been pleasantly surprised by how comfortably she has won all three of her starts and she has yet to be fully tested. I think the mile at Ascot will really suit her, which is part of the reason why we're coming, and the opportunity to run in a Group 1 over this track is a brilliant opportunity for her. It's also a race I'm pretty comfortable with as I've had runners in it before.


BS: It's not money that you are running for as there is a purse of just £283,550 on offer to the winner of the Coronation S. There is a lot more money up for grabs in America. What is the allure of a Royal Ascot winner?
GM: Like what you said there, the purse is somewhat insignificant. It's all about the prestige of winning a race at Royal Ascot. In America, we have so many opportunities to run for big money that we tend to be cautious with our race choices. It's so easy to fly to California to take in an easier target and avoid a good horse in New York. Racing boils down to the intrigue behind seeing whose horse is faster and I think we are getting away from that a little bit. The challenge of going to Royal Ascot, it's not going to be easy, but the excitement of what it brings to myself, my owners and the racing public, that's what racing is all about. Royal Ascot is right up there with the Breeders' Cup and all the biggest meetings in the world.


BS: You touched on the lack of competition creeping into racing. There is some dismay in Britain over too much racing and the product essentially being watered down. Have you any thoughts on that?
GM: That's a comment that could be made about racing in America as well. I can see the concerns in England, and can see the concern over purse money, but we run for good money in America and have similar concerns. We have a watered down product with too much racing and struggle to fill races. I think racing faces a lot of challenges right now.


BS: Having said all of that, you couldn't see yourself training anywhere else in the world, could you?
GM: I wouldn't have been able to do what I have done anywhere else in the world. When you set up in America, all you need is feed and a water bucket and you are up and running. I could never have trained at home. I would never have had that opportunity. I couldn't imagine doing what I have done anywhere else in the world and I feel very fortunate for that. I grew up watching Lester Piggott and Henry Cecil. Those were the guys who caught my attention and got me into racing and I owe them a lot, too.


BS: The reason why I bring that up is, I spoke to a leading Irish trainer recently, who explained that trading has become a necessity to keep his business alive. There is a worry that prize-money and training fees are not enough for a training business to survive.
GM: That is a worry. It is very hard to make a living as a trainer as your overheads are so vast. Even without having to own properties, like you do in Europe, you have to be careful to stay above water in America and we have strong purses. You have to be winning the big races. I see huge problems in Europe, not only for trainers, but for the product as a lot of good horses end up coming over to the U. S. because there are better opportunities to run for good money. Once you have a solid horse at home in Britain, it becomes quite hard to place them and you are quite restricted to running in competitive races. We have so many tiers in America. To really simplify it, an average horse can earn a decent living over here.


BS: Spendarella is no average horse. What will the next week look like for her and how excited are you for the race?
GM: I am very excited but I just want to get over there. She did her last piece of work [at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland] on Saturday. I will give her a relatively easy couple of days and plan to fly over on Saturday night. We run Highland Chief (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}) in the GI Manhattan S. on Saturday at Belmont and will fly out after that. We will watch her do a little bit of work on Monday morning when William Buick will come and have a sit on her. After that, it's all about just keeping her happy and keeping her ticking over.


BS: You make it sound very simple!
GM: We try to keep it simple! Best not to complicate things.

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