FAIR HILL, Md. - When H. Graham Motion trained the winner of a stakes race at Monmouth Park a few years ago, track announcer Larry Collmus asked the trainer what the "H'' stood for.
"Honest," Motion told him.
If there is one word that describes the trainer of the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, it is honest. He has started nearly 8,000 horses in his 18-year career and has never had a medication violation. In a sport in which just about everybody is looking for an edge, sometimes an illegal edge, Motion cuts no corners and breaks no rules.
"He does it the old-fashioned way, with horsemanship rather than medication," said Butch Reid, one of the leading trainers at Parx Racing.
Reid and Motion were stabled next to each other at Gulfstream Park for 5 years. When Reid came to Maryland, he lived in the basement of Motion's home for a year before his wife and daughter followed him north.
"[Motion is] real quiet, sometimes it's hard to tell what he's thinking, really dedicated to his horses, puts a lot of thought and effort into it," Reid said.
Yesterday morning, Motion arrived typically early at his Fair Hill Training Center barns, where he trains 100 horses, left for a few minutes to drive the mile home to see his two children off to school, then returned in plenty of time to oversee the training of his Derby winner.
Animal Kingdom emerged from the barn at 8:55 a.m. and, after wandering through the trails and fields, walked under the tunnel to the Tapeta track 10 minutes later.
The trainer did not want the big horse on the hard, muddy, dirt track, so AK went to the artificial surface for his 1 3/4-mile gallop, led by no less than nine of his stablemates.
"I'm just trying to stay out of his way and just let him do his thing, to be honest,'' Motion said when the morning work was done. "I really just don't want to interfere with him. I don't want to change anything.''
Motion was born in Cambridge, England, in May 1964. His father, Michael, was an international bloodstock agent; his mother, Jo, an amateur rider.
The Motions moved to America in 1980. Five years later, legendary Chester Country trainer Jonathan Sheppard got a call from Graham's father. Sheppard, also an Englishman, knew Michael Motion "slightly."
"I've got this boy," the father told Sheppard. "I think he wants to be a trainer, but I don't know if he really does or not. He has not been very much hands-on with horses as a kid. He was just at prep school."
Sheppard remembered that they decided to let Motion go to the "school of hard knocks with Sheppard and find out whether he really likes it or not."
"I had a reputation of giving a lot of young people a shot," Sheppard said "and you find out pretty soon if they are really dedicated."
Motion was dedicated. Six years with Sheppard got him ready. The young, aspiring trainer made several trips abroad with Sheppard's steeplechase champion, Flatterer. Motion went to work for trainer Jonathan Pease in Chantilly, France. There, he met Anita, who would become his wife.
Motion came back to the States in 1991 to work for trainer Bernie Bond in Maryland. Sheppard is the king of the long-distance grass horses. Bond was legendary for sending out fast 2-year-olds to win early and often.
"It was polar opposites and it's the best thing I could have done, two extremes, really" Motion said. "You go from training on a farm to training at Pimlico with 2-year-olds. It's about as extreme as it gets."
Motion learned each style so well that when Bond passed away in 1993, his owners gave their horses to Motion. The trainer has been winning 20 percent of his races ever since. His horses have won $64 million in purses.
"He's sort of a quiet, humble, laid-back kind of a guy," Sheppard said. "There was a point where I actually questioned him: Does he have the drive to be successful? You don't know what is going on underneath these people. Sure enough, he obviously has all the necessary ingredients."
Motion won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf with 27-1 Better Talk Now, a horse he kept in great form years past a normal horse's prime. He won the 2010 BC Filly & Mare Turf with 46-1 Shared Account. Now, the Derby with a 20-1 shot making his first start on a dirt surface.
"Always a gentleman, very professional and has a reputation for being one of the straightest, most honest guys there is," said Mark Reid, the former trainer who runs Walnut Green Farm in Chester County.
"You never hear anything bad about him," said Reid, Butch's brother.
Motion has his stable at Fair Hill, an idyllic spot very unlike the chaos of the racetrack, with its trails, woods, wide-open spaces and quiet. He is there to be minutes from his family and to give his horses the best chance to succeed.
"[Training at the track] is like being in Center City, the hustle and bustle, a backside of 1,500 horses, 1,000 of them are training on any particular day between 6 and 10 with a half-hour renovation break," Mark Reid said. "It's semi-organized chaos. Fair Hill is like the country road here in Chester County."
Motion's horses typically won't see a racetrack for a week after they run. They will wander the woods a bit to unwind. Animal Kingdom, however, was different. The colt had never been to Fair Hill before last week and he would have to run again in 2 weeks.
"I didn't want to be taking liberties with him," Motion said. "It's different when you take a horse that's never been out in the woods before for the first time. It can be a little bit of a culture shock. You can walk through here and have six deer jump out of the woods."
Don't want any deer fooling with the Derby winner.
Animal Kingdom will stay at Fair Hill until around dawn Saturday, when the colt will take an hour van ride south to Pimlico for the Preakness.
It is the same ride Barbaro took 5 years ago after the colt's epic Derby win. The 2006 Derby winner's Preakness ended almost before it began, with that devastating leg injury.
Overseeing a set of his horses, Barbaro trainer Michael Matz was astride his horse near the track as Motion was getting ready to walk back to the barn to get Animal Kindgom ready.
"Just win the next one, will you?" Matz said with a smile.
That would be Saturday at Pimlico in the Preakness.