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Training career set in Motion at birth

The Devil's Dyke was an English landmark long before Big Ben popped up. Around 550 A.D., the tribes of East Anglia built the 7½-mile earthwork (19 feet high in spots) as a defense against invaders. The big bump runs beside Newmarket Racecourse, the 17th century birthplace of thoroughbred racing.

On a July afternoon in 1964, Jo Motion wheeled her 2-month-old son's pram -- British lingo for stroller -- near the Devil's Dyke. Because children were not allowed inside the racecourse, she found a viewing spot just outside it, and that's where Graham, in a pram, made his racing debut.

"I suppose it was a taste of things to come,'' Jo Motion said by telephone from Virginia. "I've been in racing all my life.''

So has her third child, who became world famous May 7 when Animal Kingdom dominated the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, the imposing chestnut colt will go for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, an hour's drive from Graham Motion's base in Elkton, Md.

The 350-acre Fair Hill Training Center looks and feels like England's countryside, where Jo Motion and husband Michael ran a stud in a town named Bury St. Edmunds. Graham named his Herringswell Stables after Herringswell Manor Stud, the Motions' home before they moved to the United States in 1980.

Instead of being cooped up in a backstretch stall 23 hours a day, at Fair Hill a horse can graze in paddocks and canter through woods.

"It's where I feel comfortable and where my horses feel comfortable,'' Motion said.

His mother loves the tranquility, too. "It's a lovely place to train,'' she said. "It suits his style.'''

The family's racing roots couldn't run deeper. Jo Motion, a former amateur jumps jockey, helped care for Nickel Coin, who won the 1951 Grand National. In 1953, she was "one of the first four girls galloping horses at Belmont Park'' and later among the first female trainers in this country. She owns Middleburg Tack Exchange in Virginia, and at 79 still climbs aboard a tractor to mow grass.

Michael Motion, 80, was an international bloodstock agent for England's world-renowned Tattersalls, which has been auctioning horseflesh since 1766, 14 years before the first Epsom Derby.

"Graham knew racing very well before he decided to take the plunge,'' Jo said. "The apple didn't fall far from the tree.''

Said Michael: "He grew up around it, but we certainly didn't encourage him to go into it.''

From 1985-90, Motion aided Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard before working briefly in France, where he met his future wife, Anita, also a native of England. In 1991, he began a two-year stint in Maryland under Bernie Bond. When Bond retired in 1993, Motion took over the stable. He's old school to the max, a "hay, oats and water'' guy who never has had a medication violation.

"We treasure the reputation he has," Michael Motion said.

More than 1,500 winners later, Motion became an instant celebrity. "I'm trying not to think too much about the Preakness,'' he said Thursday. "I'm just trying to enjoy winning the Derby.''

That's no surprise to his mother. "He's a very laid-back kind of a character,'' she said. "Not what I would call a difficult child at all.''

Motion's parents will be at Pimlico, but they stayed away from Churchill Downs because to Jo, "165,000 people is not my idea of a good time.'' After attending a granddaughter's graduation in High Point, N.C., they caught the Derby in their hotel room.

"Just the two of us,'' Michael said. "We wanted to watch in a quiet place.''

But as Animal Kingdom emerged from the pack and pulled away, English restraint vanished. Mother and father became proud and loud.

"We kept getting closer to the TV,'' Michael said, "and we were screaming our heads off.''

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