Trainer Graham Motion upset the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf last year with Better Talk Now, and the high-profile victory only helped make an already strong stable that much more powerful.
Winning the biggest races can't help but attract wealthy owners, and Motion's stock has just gotten better. Cheveley Park Farm, one of the top racing operations in England, sent him several extremely talented runners to train at Fair Hill, and one of them, Battle Chant, crushed an accomplished field with an explosive move in the stretch yesterday to win the $150,000 John D. Schapiro Memorial Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel Park.
Battle Chant ran the 11/8-mile race on the expansive new turf course in 1 minute 46 seconds, the fastest time at the distance ever recorded at Laurel.
With little rain lately, the turf course has been dry, firm and extremely fast. Motion, 41, a native of England who lives and trains most of his horses at Fair Hill, started to disparage the time but then thought again.
"That's a very fast time on any track," he said.
The impressive win overshadowed the poor performance of Mr. O'Brien, the 1.20-to-1 favorite who has been looking to regain the form that sent him to the Breeders' Cup Mile last year. In his third race of the year, the 6-year-old Mr. O'Brien, trained by Robin Graham at Laurel, finished sixth in the seven-horse field and failed to make an impact in the stretch.
"No excuses," said jockey Mario Pino. "I got him to relax like he likes it, but when we tipped out at the top of the lane, he didn't finish."
Motion had entered two horses in the Schapiro, named after the late owner of Laurel, but scratched Funfair to likely run in the Grade II Kelso Breeders' Cup on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park.
Battle Chant didn't need the company. Stakes placed in England last year, Battle Chant showed exceptional talent in the Schapiro. He stalked the pace set by long shot Baron Von Tap from fourth place, and when jockey Ryan Fogelsonger asked him to move, the 5-year-old gelding easily pulled clear. Veteran turf runner Dr. Kashnikow rallied for second at odds of 22-1.
"I could have gone any time I wanted," Fogelsonger said in the winner's circle. "I really only let him run three-sixteenths of a mile. He had plenty left. I knocked him [with the whip] a couple times in the stretch to keep his attention. This is the most talented horse I've been on the turf this year."
The win, the fourth in 20 starts for Battle Chant, earned the owners $90,000 and possibly a trip with the horse to the Breeders' Cup.
"It would be a huge step," said Motion, who still has Better Talk Now and his star mare Film Maker readying for the Cup, Oct. 30 at Belmont Park, "but it's not out of the realm."
Racing Notes: Folklore, a 2-year-old filly trained by D. Wayne Lukas, won the 99th running of the Grade I $300,000 Matron as heavily favored India finished last at Belmont Park. The winner, ridden by Edgar Prado, completed the seven-furlong race, a Breeders' Cup prep, in 1:23.70.