Motion, Stidham hoping juveniles deliver on early promise
by Doug McCoy
Challengers from Europe. A tight turf course with different footing. The effects of shipping 2600 miles cross-country.
These are just a few of the unknowns that prompts trainer H. Graham Motion to call the Breeders’ Cup experience “one of racing’s biggest puzzles.”
And Motion should know. It’s been 13 years since a cantankerous gelding named Better Talk Now posted a stunning upset in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf at 27-to-1 and the racing world began to realize that Graham Motion was a horseman to be reckoned with.
Now, with three Breeders’ Cup wins under his belt and a wealth of Breeders’ Cup experience, Motion brings two promising young runners to B.C. 2017 in Untamed Domain and Maya Malibu.
Untamed Domain will run in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and while the Animal Kingdom colt has shown flashes of brilliance in a young career that has seen him win two of four lifetime starts, he has also been green and hard to handle at times, especially down the stretch. He ran on the wrong lead while closing to win a maiden race at Saratoga in his second career start and may well have been best in the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes next out but lugged in and tried to lay on competition inside down the lane and wound up third, beaten just over a length for all of it.
After the With Anticipation Motion put blinkers on Untamed Domain, and the equipment change helped enough for the colt to run down the leaders late in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine under Joe Bravo and post his first career stakes win in his next start. But even though he won that day, he again lugged in down the lane and had to be deftly handled to prevail.
While Motion would certainly like to see Untamed Domain improve his manners, he said recently he’s not surprised it is taking some time for the colt to get totally dialed in.
“He’s by Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom didn’t really start to get it together until early in his 3-year-old year,” the horseman said from Del Mar this week. “His offspring, Untamed Domain included, have been the same way, talented but slow to fully mature and get totally focused. It can be frustrating from a training standpoint, but remembering how Animal Kingdom blossomed makes it easier to handle.”
Of course in any Breeders’ Cup race, especially those on turf, there’s the Euro factor to consider. In the Juvenile Turf six runners are coming over the pond. That includes the tepid morning line favorite, Masar (9-2), the Charles Appleby trainee who owns a Group 3 win at Sandown Park and finished third in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly. Of course, as Motion – and the stockbrokers – point out, past achievement is no guarantee of future performance.
“You just don’t know how they (the Euros) will handle the footing and the tight turns, but then again there may be some U.S. horses that have handling problems as well,” Motion said. “It’s just another piece of the puzzle.”
Saturday Maya Malibu will make her first start around two turns in the Juvenile Fillies, and Motion says if breeding has anything to do with it, Maya Malibu will perform well in the mile and a sixteenth route. She’s by Malibu Moon out of the Tabasco Cat mare Island Sand.
“Her breeding all says distance, and her mother, Island Sand, ran second in the Kentucky Oaks and won the Grade I Acorn so there’s every indication she’ll be comfortable at middle distances” Motion pointed out.
After Maya Malibu won her debut at Delaware Park in convincing fashion she moved right into Grade I company at Saratoga in the seven-furlong Spinaway. She almost came away with a win in that stake, slipping through on the fence to draw even for the lead inside the final furlong before falling victim to the late charging Lady Ivanka. In her last Maya Malibu drew the one hole in the one turn Frizette and finished third after being along the dead rail most of that mile test.
“She’s dead honest and there looks to be enough speed in the race to set things up for her running style,” the trainer said. “Then it will just be a case of seeing if she’s good enough.”
STIDHAM HOPES SURFER GIRL A PORTENT OF THINGS TO COME WITH MOON DASH
Two weeks ago trainer Mike Stidham had every intention of running his $650,000 yearling purchase Moon Dash in the Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, but a combination of race restrictions and travel complications forced the trainer to make some decisions that now have the Malibu Moon filly in the field on Friday in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf.
Moon Dash, like the aforementioned Maya Malibu, won her career debut at Delaware Park going seven and a half furlongs on the turf, but as can happen at Delaware Park, the field Moon Dash beat was no ordinary group of maidens. Going Out, who finished a half length back of Moon Dash, is out of the champion mare Forever Together, while Madame Milan, who ran third, beaten a length and a half for all of it, is a half-sister to the great Barbaro. Both horses came back to win their next starts and Stidham said several trainers, including Motion, told him he had run into one of those Delaware Park maiden races that produce future stakes winners.
What’s more, Stidham said, the condition of the Jessamine, a Grade 3 event, didn’t present an ideal scenario for his runner.
“If the race overfilled the conditions gave preference to stakes winners, then horses with the most earnings. So we could well have shipped out there and not been able to get in the race. The last plane going to California was slated to leave before we would enter, so I had to decide whether to fly her (Moon Dash) to the Coast. I figured if we entered in the Surfer Girl, we’d get some indication if she deserved consideration for the B.C.” he explained.
As it turned out Moon Dash’s performance in the mile Surfer Girl at Santa Anita validated any questions Stidham may have had about her belonging with “the big girls.” Ninth in the field of 12 after a half mile, Moon Dash was forced to go outside in the second turn and make a very wide sweeping move to contention, then the filly closed like a shot along the outside and just fell a nose short to Fatale Bere (who is also in the Juvenile Filly Turf).
“Mike (Smith), didn’t like where he was inside early and was forced to make a big, wide move through the turn, but in spite of that she came flying down the outside and just missed,” Stidham said. “Mike said when he came back he thought we’d won.”
With the tight turns of Del Mar’s turf course Stidham is pleased Moon Dash had the Delaware race under her belt.
“She showed she can handle tight turns the first time she ran,” the trainer pointed out. “We drew a tough post (the far outside in the 14-horse field) but we’ve got an experienced rider and hopefully we’ll get a decent position and get a chance to make out run. Then it’s up to her (Moon Dash).”
Stidham also longshot Zipessa (20-1), in the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday.