Motion Hopes to Strike 'Gold' In Gulfstream Derby
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Trainer Graham Motion tasted victory in the Kentucky Derby this year for the first time with a horse that hadn’t even registered a blip on the national radar at this time last year.
No 2-year-old saddled by Motion will ever again evade detection from those on the lookout for Kentucky Derby prospects. Thus, when Gold Megillah cavorted to a maiden victory by more than 18 lengths over a sloppy Churchill Downs racetrack on Nov. 16, the son of Purim instantly became a serious horse to watch.
Motion will give Gold Megillah a chance to become a Kentucky Derby candidate when he saddles him for the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby at Gulfstream on Jan. 1. But the 47-year-old trainer will do so without expectations that Gold Megillah or his other soon-to-be 3-year-olds will have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom.
“It’s not like I’m going to be pushing them extra hard this year, because we won it last year,” Motion said. “I still feel very strongly that these 3-year-olds got to take you there. You can’t force them to take you there.”
When Animal Kingdom finished second in a turf allowance at Gulfstream Park in his first start for Motion on March 3, little did anyone know that two starts later the son of Leroidesanimaux would be draped in a blanket of roses at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. The loss at Gulfstream obviously did nothing to damper Motion’s confidence in Animal Kingdom, who captured the Spiral Stakes (G3) over Turfway’s synthetic surface to collect enough graded-stakes earnings to earn his way in to the Kentucky Derby field.
But it wasn’t until Animal Kingdom turned in an eye-catching workout over the dirt surface at Churchill, that Motion entered Team Valor International’s colt in the Kentucky Derby, confident that he would handle the conventional track.
Gold Megillah had previously shown promise on turf before breaking his maiden last time out in a race taken off the turf.
“He beat a group of horses that were looking to run on turf, so it’s kind of questionable what he beat the other day. Having said that, any time a horse wins by 18 lengths, it catches your attention,” Motion said. “I don’t know completely what we have, but I’m hoping this is the logical way to go with him.”
Purchased at the 2-year-olds-in-training Fasig-Tipton sale at Palm Meadows last February, Gold Megillah debuted on dirt finishing a distant fourth behind run-away winner Fire On Ice in a maiden special weight race at Saratoga on Aug. 27.
“I took him to Saratoga to run him on the grass. He trained well on synthetic, which usually correlates to running well on the grass. Besides that, I think it’s not quite as competitive on grass as the dirt races are (at Saratoga),” Motion said. “As it turned out the grass race didn’t fill and we ended up running him on the dirt, and he ran up against that Unbridled’s Song monster of John Kimmel’s (Fire On Ice). He wasn’t ready for that.”
Gold Megillah rebounded to finish a strong-closing second in a maiden race on turf at Belmont Park before enduring a troubled trip to finish seventh in the Bourbon (G3) over the Keeneland turf.
“It was that time of year when you only have one shot to make the Breeders’ Cup and you have to run in one of the stakes races to make it. I didn’t want to find out after the Breeders’ Cup that he was that good. It was a big step for him. He ran creditably but it was too much to go on to the Breeders’ Cup,” Motion said. “We regrouped and looked for a race at Churchill, and that race came off the grass.”
Gold Megillah stalked the early pace before making a sweeping four-wide move to the lead on the turn and drawing away from eight rivals over a sloppy track and under jockey Edgar Prado – earning a return engagement on dirt in the Gulfstream Derby.