Trainer Graham Motion has two vivid memories from watching his star pupil Animal Kingdom win the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
“I had run horses in the Derby before and I always said, ‘Right around the 3/8ths pole you start sorting out the men from the boys.’ My other horses had always started backing out at the 3/8ths pole, whereas Animal Kingdom seemed like he was really getting rolling,” Motion said.
“At the 16th pole, my feelings switched to, ‘This would be really cruel if they took this away from me now.’ It looked like he was home free… I’ve had it happen to me so often, but never in a race of that scale. I just was thinking, ‘This would be so cruel.’ I think that’s the way trainers look at things.”
Motion said what made Animal Kingdom a champion was the horse’s generosity.
“He was very generous,” the trainer said. “I don’t think he ever ran a bad race for me that was his fault. He, basically, did everything we asked him to do and he was just an extremely talented and generous horse.
“There’s plenty of horses out there that have the ability, but you’ve got to be prepared to give that ability… That’s not something that every person or every animal can do.”
Ten years on, Motion has deep memories of the day he won his first and, so far, only Kentucky Derby.
There was the security guard that initially blocked him from entering the paddock before the race — “the poor gentleman that stopped me has never forgiven himself and he always apologizes profusely whenever I see him” — the fact Motion and his family needed fellow trainer Dale Romans’ help to find the winner’s circle and the “remarkable” trophy reception afterward in the Kentucky Derby Museum.
“We have plenty of pictures. We have half of the garland of roses that we put away in a frame. and(Animal Kingdom’s owner) Team Valor have the other half. Obviously, the trophy is extraordinary. It’s just something I never anticipated that I would have,” Motion said.
Yet, it’s something no one can ever take away.
“People probably don’t appreciate quite how hard it is to get there and what it takes to get there,” Motion said. “So many stars have to align in order to win that race on that given day because you only get one shot with each individual horse.
“It took a really special horse to do it the likes of which I’m unlikely to have again. He was an extraordinary animal.”
Canadian content in the 147th Kentucky Derby
Nearly 60 years ago, Canadian-bred Northern Dancer put the nation on the world Thoroughbred map with a dominant victory in the 1964 Kentucky Derby en route to becoming one of the most successful sires in the sport’s history.
Saturday’s 147th edition of the Run for the Roses won’t feature a Canadian-bred or Canadian-owned runner, but there will be some other Canadian content for those north of the border wishing to root for the home team.
Perhaps the most notable is Robertino Diodoro. The Alberta-born trainer will saddle his first Derby starter on May 1 when Keepmeinmind goes into the starting gate at Churchill Downs with jockey David Cohen. Keepmeinmind won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade 2) at Churchill Downs as rookie and comes into the Derby off a fifth-place finish on April 3 in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) at Keeneland.
Mark Casse — who has been voted Canada’s Outstanding Trainer 13 times, including in each of the last 10 years — will send out two Derby hopefuls in search of his first victory in the race in his ninth appearance in it. The Canadian and U.S. Hall of Famer will saddle both Soup and Sandwich (Tyler Gaffalione) and unbeaten Helium (Julien Leparoux), who won the Display Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in October of 2020 in the second of this three career starts.
Windsor native Dina McKnight-Dargis is a part-owner of Hot Rod Charlie, who drew post nine for Saturday’s race. Derby favourite Essential Quality (2-1) beat Hot Rod Charlie by less than a length at last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Finally, Derby starter Highly Motivated has ties to Canada through his dam, Strong Incentive, who is an Ontario-bred mare and winner of the 2015 Jammed Lovely Stakes at Woodbine. Strong Incentive, sired by Warrior’s Road, earned $123,568 on the track. Highly Motivated is trained by Chad Brown and will be ridden by Javier Castellano for Klaravich Stables, who co-owns with William Lawrence.
Apart from Northern Dancer, there have been other Canadian-connected Derby winners. But, proving just how difficult a race it is to win, it would be 19 years after the Oshawa, ON-born legend won the 1964 race before a second Canadian-bred would follow suit. In 1983, Sunny’s Halo — bred and owned by D.J. (Pud) Foster of Toronto and trained by David C. Cross Jr. — won the Kentucky Derby and became the first 3-year-old Thoroughbred in North America to earn more than $1 million in a single season.
The two champions remain the only Canadian-breds to win the Derby, but Canadians have found success in the race in other ways.
In 2009, Mine That Bird won the 135th running of the Derby. Mine That Bird was bred by Peter Lamantia of Toronto and U.S. partners and originally purchased as a yearling by Woodbine trainer Dave Cotey for $9,500 (U.S.) before being sold to U.S. interests for $400,000 at the end of his 2-year-old season.
Four years later, owner J. Paul Reddam of Windsor, ON won the first of two Kentucky Derbies when I’ll Have Another ran down Bodemeister in the final furlong of the 2012 contest. I’ll Have Another was purchased for $11,000 as a yearling. Reddam would score his second Derby win in 2016 with Nyquist. Both I’ll Have Another and Nyquist were trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
In 2018, Justify, bred by John Gunther of Vancouver, won the Derby for U.S. owners en route to becoming only the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner. The Bob Baffert trainee was ridden to glory by Mike Smith.
Woodbine Press Release
Photos: Courtesy of Woodbine