Trainer Graham Motion sets sights on Queen's Plate win
54-year-old has 2 horses in the race
He's won the Kentucky Derby and two Breeders' Cup races. Now trainer Graham Motion has his sights on adding the $1-million Queen's Plate to his impressive resume.
The 54-year-old native of Cambridge, England, will send two Sam-Son Farm horses postward Saturday evening at Woodbine Racetrack. Strike Me Down will break from the No. 4 post with Jose Ortiz aboard while Rafael Hernandez will ride Say the Word from the No. 9 position in the 16-horse field.
"Since I got into the business it [Queen's Plate] has been on my radar," Motion said during a telephone interview. "I just didn't have opportunities to come up there with a Canadian-bred but more and more we seem to have clients with a Canadian-bred so it's definitely on my radar every year now.
"It's definitely one of those races that you'd like to have on your resume, without a doubt. I'm very fortunate to have those horses for Sam-Son, two legitimate horses. It's exciting."
Motion earned his first Breeders' Cup title in '04 with Better Talk Now in the Turf. He added the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2010 with Shared Account before winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom.
Motion's first-ever Plate victory would also be Sam-Son Farm's sixth, but first since Eye of the Leopard in 2009. Among Sam-Son's Plate champions is Dance Smartly (1991), the only filly ever to win Canada's Triple Crown and the lone mare to foal consecutive Plate victors (Scatter The Gold in 2000, Dancethruthedawn in 2001).
Dance Smartly was also the first Canadian-owned and bred horse to win a Breeders' Cup race, taking the Distaff at Churchill Downs. Sam-Son Farm has earned 10 Sovereign Awards as Canada's top owner and seven as the country's outstanding breeder.
Strike Me Down favourite
Still, Strike Me Down is a 10/1 early pick for the Plate while Say the Word is a 20/1 longshot. Strike Me Down has a win, two seconds and a third-place effort in four career starts while Say the Word has a win, second and third-place finishes in seven races.
The ever curious Strike Me Down will race for the winner’s share of $1M in Saturday’s Queen’s Plate <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/QP18?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#QP18</a> <a href="https://t.co/eQXxeoJHkz">pic.twitter.com/eQXxeoJHkz</a>—@TripleDeadHeat
Plate Trial winner Telekinesis is early 5/2 Plate favourite with fillies Wonder Gadot and Dixie Moon next at 3/1 and 4/1 respectively. Dixie Moon is coming off a win in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, finishing ahead of Wonder Gadot.
Motion said with such a big field, a horse and jockey will need a little racing luck to win.
"I think Strike Me Down will lie close to the pace while my other horse, I'd imagine, will come off the pace," he said. "I'm lucky to have both Jose and Rafael riding them, to be honest."
Say the Word was third in his last start — missing second by a head — an allowance race at Woodbine over 1 1/16 miles.
Strike Me Down was second in the Tale of the Cat Stakes at Monmouth on June 2. Strike Me Down was first at the top of the lane before losing the lead in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.
Motion doesn't expect the 1 1/4-mile Plate distance to be a problem for Say the Word but isn't quite so sure about Strike Me Down.
"Strike Me Down is a little bit of an unknown just because he's never been that far," Motion said. "Say the Word did win pretty nicely just short of a mile and a quarter so I don't imagine it's a problem for him."
Say the Word's lone career win came April 27 at Keeneland in a 1 3/16-mile turf event.
Motion will attempt to calm Strike Me Down on Saturday by having the horse wear a hood.
"We cover their ears to block out some of the sound, that's a big help," Motion said. "He tends to get pretty wound up in the post parade and really carries on with his head.
"We've found that will help to settle horses sometimes."
Say the Word has a win and third-place finish in three starts this year, but Motion said the horse has vastly improved over his sophomore season [second from four tries]. Say the Word was gelded over the winter, and Motion said that has helped calm the horse.
"He was definitely a tricky horse last year but he's grown up and matured a lot," Motion said. "He showed a lot of promise early on but just didn't show it in the afternoon.
"Over the winter I think he's grown up and all three of his races this year have been very good ones."