He may be a native of Cambridge, England, but Graham Motion sure has got the hang of celebrating an Independence Day weekend. The Fair Hill trainer set off some dazzling fireworks with impressive victories by Fortune Pearl in the Grade-2 $300,000 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park and Main Sequence's gritty win in the $550,000 Grade-1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.
On a sparkling Sunday afternoon, ten minutes from the Jersey shore, Main Sequence uncorked an impressive American debut off an eight-month layoff. Ridden by Rajiv Maragh, the European long distance runner broke last in the nine-horse field and lagged toward the back of the compact group early in the 1 3/8-mile race. Main Sequence began to pick off horses on the final turn, coming four wide into the stretch and then unleashed an electric turn of foot to get up just before the wire to defeat second favorite Twilight Eclipse by a neck.
The time was 2:14.23 on a firm turf course, less than a second off the course record established by Pop Panebianco in August 2009. Main Sequence earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.
“We just wanted to get him in a good rhythm and not worry about the pace or anything else, just keep him happy in the stretch," explained Maragh. "We came around the outside into the stretch and when I called on him, he just accelerated. He’s got a real turn of foot. He sprinted home the last quarter of a mile.”
"He can be quirky in the mornings, but Rajiv rode him great," Motion noted. "He is not fond of getting to the lead too early, but he showed a tremendous turn of foot today. The way he's been working at Fair Hill, I've been really anxious to run him for three or four weeks now. Looking forward, I think the Breeders' Cup is now something we can consider."
The United Nations is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race. The victory gives Main Sequence an automatic berth in the $3 million 1 1/2-mile Turf on November 1 at Santa Anita.
Motion acquired the horse through David Lanigan who trained Main Sequence in England. Lanigan suggested to the horse’s owners that he continue his career in the U. S.
"The Niarchos family felt he needed a change of scenery and they sent him to me last winter,” Motion related. “They thought the change of scenery would do well for the horse. I thought it was a great idea. But he came over from England in a brutal point of the winter and ended up quarantined for a couple of weeks up in Newburgh in New York. The horse got quite sick with a high temperature and pneumonia, so you always worry how they’re going to come back from it. We really waited until we thought he was ready to run."
Main Sequence began his career in England, winning four minor races in succession, two as a 2-year-old and two as a 3-year-old. He was runner-up to Camelot in the Epsom Derby and finished an unlucky fourth in the 2012 Grand Prix de Paris. He ended that season with a close second in the Group-2 Great Voltigeur and a fifth in the Group-1 St Leger. But Main Sequence fizzled in 2013, ending the year with a disappointing eighth in the Group-1 Champion Stakes at Ascot last October.
The 5-year-old hadn’t won since May 2012, beaten eight straight times. Motion put ten workouts at Fair Hill into Main Sequence between April 17 and the United Nations.
“I knew he was fit enough,” Motion said. “I was concerned that it had been a long time between wins for him and if mentally he still wanted to do it. The company he had been facing in Europe was strong for the most part and he wasn’t being badly beaten, he just hadn’t won.”
Motion elected to skip the Grade-3 $200,000 Arlington Handicap, opting instead for Monmouth Park, roughly 80 miles from Motion's Fair Hill Training center base.
"It all worked out and to win a Grade-I with the horse is pretty neat,” said Motion, who won the U.N. in 2005 with Better Talk Now.
Main Sequence has five wins, three seconds, and three thirds from 15 starts. He has now earned $988,386. Pointing toward the Breeders' Cup Turf, his next start could be the Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles on August 17 or the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer at Saratoga the next day.
Top Fillies Tangle
The day before Main Sequence's score at Monmouth Park, Fortune Pearl came home a two length winner in the $300,000 Grade-2 Delaware Oaks in the 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies. It was the second career Oaks victory for Graham Motion, who won the race in 2000 with Sincerely.
Trained by Philadelphia Park's John Servis, Joint Return was the 8-5 favorite after her convincing win in the local Oaks prep, the Our Mims Stakes in June. As the second favorite, Fortune Pearl broke from the outside post in the eight-horse field. Both fillies lagged well back off the early pace and launched their bids on the far turn. Fortune Pearl took the inside route, snatching the lead at the furlong pole and drew away to win by two lengths.
“Nobody was more surprised than me when she won,” Motion said Saturday. “She just hadn’t shown us a lot in the morning. I know the number (speed figure) was low, but each time she runs she improves.”
Fortune Pearl's owner-breeder Ralphy Meahjohn also raced Fortune Pearl’s dam, Chelsea’s Pearl, a modest racehorse who has produced four foals that are all winners. Fortune Pearl’s record now stands at 7-3-2-1 with $272,000 in earnings.
Motion is considering the Grade-1 Alabama at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga on August 16. Four Delaware Oaks winners have won the Alabama since 2003: Blind Luck, Careless Jewel, Proud Spell, and Island Fashion.
The Fair Hill trainer was white hot the first ten days of July. Running for the first time since his arrival from California, Craftsman romped in the Nick Shuk Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park. He is an Irish-bred colt by Mastercraftman, a top grass horse in Europe. Motion trainees ran one-two in the Northern Fling Stakes at Presque Isle Racetrack. First time stake starter Star Pearl pulled away in the deep stretch to claim the victory, while Cat's Holiday uncorked a big move from off the pace to place. After a lengthy seven and a half month lay-off, Give No Quarter split horses in the stretch and drew off the easy winner at 11-1 at Belmont Park.
Mr. Speaker spoke loudest in the stretch run of the inaugural Grade-1, $1.25 million Belmont Derby at Belmont Park on July 5. Formerly known as the Jamaica Handicap and held during the fall meet, the Belmont Derby was the richest of five stakes on the inaugural "Stars and Stripes Day."
It was a heart-pumping run to the wire between Shug McGaughey's Mr. Speaker and the highly touted Irish-bred Adelaide, trained by famed Aidan O'Brien. At the top of stretch Adelaide was taken off the rail and Mr. Speaker's jockey Jose Lezcano shot through the hole that was created to seize command and appeared ready to widen his margin. However, the 2-1 favorite Adelaide fought back gaining ground all the way to the wire. Not to be denied, Mr. Speaker held on for his first Grade-1 victory.
“I got a perfect trip,” Lezcano noted. “We broke, and I got the position I wanted. I let him settle. Last time, he was a little aggressive. It was a five-horse field, he broke, and no one wanted to go, so he took the lead. Today, on the backside, I made a little move to try and hold my position. Then I followed a horse I saw running. I think I followed the right horse, Adelaide.”
It was Mr. Speaker's fourth victory in nine starts. Owned by the Phipps Stable, Mr. Speaker rebounded after finishing fifth in the Pennine Ridge, the local prep for the 1 ¼-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.
"I wanted him back in the field," said McGaughey, who has a division of horses at Fair Hill. "Jose rode a great race on him. We’re tickled that NYRA carded this race and we’re tickled to death that we won it.”
Mr. Speaker, who returned $49 to win, completed the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.18 and increased his bankroll by the winner’s share of $670,000. His career earnings now stand at $945,880.
In the 77th running of the Delaware Handicap Belle Gallantey got away with dawdling fractions throughout the race and opened up in the stretch to defeat heavy favorite (1-5) Princess of Sylmar at Delaware Park on July 12. Princess of Sylmar won four consecutive Grade-1 races in 2013.
Sitting just off pacesetter Belle Gallantey, Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar was given her cue by jockey Javier Castellano midway on the far turn, but she was unable to unleash her patented stretch kick as the leader and Flashy American kicked for home. Belle Gallantey pulled away to a 2 3/4-length victory over Princess of Sylmar in the 1 1/4-mile Del 'Cap.
"One of my concerns was not having a true pace scenario develop, which came to be, but we have no excuses," said her trainer Todd Pletcher.
Having lost her last two races, the Princess hopes to return to the high standards she set last year at Saratoga in August. We'll see.