A horse race like the Preakness Stakes takes about two minutes. But there are weeks, sometimes months, of work to get a thoroughbred ready to compete. The preparation falls to the trainer, who plots a course for their trainee to be in the best possible shape before the starting gate flings open and determines the best course for getting there. Each circumstance is unique.

To better understand a trainer’s thought process, The Baltimore Banner will follow H. Graham Motion, a Kentucky Derby winner, four-time Breeders’ Cup winner and finalist for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, as he trains a horse for a race happening sometime during the two days of Preakness and the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Read: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Among his many tasks as a thoroughbred trainer, H. Graham Motion often has to think about a race with one of his horses like a bettor.

Which horses in the field will break from the starting gate well? Who will go to the front? Is there going to be a lot of pace, or will the pack plod along? Does the race favor a front-runner, a horse that can stalk the early leader or a closer who can surge ahead from the back of the pack in the stretch run?

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One particularly useful tool is the Beyer Speed Figure, a numerical rating that factors in the time of the race, distance and speed of the track on a given day. The higher the figure, the better the performance.

“I probably don’t do it as much as some of the other younger trainers do, but certainly it’s a crutch for us to look at speed ratings,” Motion, 59, said during my first visit to his barn at the Fair Hill Training Center in April.

H. Graham Motion watches his horses jog at Herringswell Stables on May 10. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

It is one data point to determine if your horse belongs.

“Really, you have to be a handicapper, because you’ve got to be able to handicap the races to have an idea if you fit,” Motion said.

But, when I spoke with him a week ago, Motion wasn’t deep in video replays of the competition for two of his entrants, Royal Wintour in the Hilltop Stakes on Friday and Five Towns in the Grade 3 Gallorette Stakes on Saturday.

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“Look, those two fillies, I’m going to enter both of them as long as they’re doing well,” he said. “So I won’t do a lot of research on the races because I plan to run them anyway.”

In other words, he’s confident putting them in this spot. One reason is Pimlico Race Course is a short drive from Fair Hill. He likened it to the difference between a home game and an away game in any other sport.

“Instead of having to put a horse on a van 10 hours to Kentucky, I’m going an hour down the road to Pimlico,” Motion said in April. “And that’s a big factor; some horses don’t handle that as well.”

We’ll do some of the handicapping work for you here as we follow Five Towns to the finish. The Gallorette is 1 1/16th miles on the turf for a purse of $100,000. Five Towns ran for the same amount in the Dahlia Stakes on April 20 at Laurel Park, but this is considered a jump in class because it’s a graded-stakes race. This race is 1/16th of a mile longer than the Dahlia.

It’s important to note the forecast calls for rain all day Saturday, which will certainly be a factor. The Gallorette’s 2:08 p.m. post time is right in the middle of the afternoon. With that in mind, here’s a look at the field, with videos of each horse’s most recent race.

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1. Sweet Dani Girl (4-1)

Since shifting to trainer Christophe Clement for 2024, the 5-year-old mare has won two races in three starts, with a victory in a $62,000 allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park in February at this distance. She’s run on the turf in graded-stakes company in previous years, most impressively in 2023 when she finished second in the Grade 3 Modesty Stakes and third in the Grade 3 Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes, both at Churchill Downs. In 11 career starts on the turf, she’s 4-2-1.

Last time out, on March 24, she went off as the 3-5 favorite in the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and finished fourth, sitting midpack along the backstretch before moving up three-wide for the stretch run and coming up empty. Clement has an 18% winning percentage when bringing horses back from a layoff of 31 to 60 days.

Watch on YouTube

2. Dana’s Beauty (8-1)

This 6-year-old mare is a synthetic specialist, running 25 of her 37 career races there. She’s shown great form on it lately, winning a $50,000 allowance optional claiming race March 3 at Turfway Park and following it up March 23 with a 2 3/4-length win in the $249,000 Latonia Stakes at the same track. As a 20-1 shot in the latter race, she set the pace and never surrendered the lead.

To find her lone win on the turf, you have to go all the way back to a five-furlong, $29,000 allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs in December 2021. Dana’s Beauty hasn’t hit the board in five other tries. Still, she has two wins in three starts on the year for trainer Michael Maker, who has a 10% winning percentage moving horses from synthetic to turf. This will be the first graded-stakes race for Dana’s Beauty.

Watch on YouTube

3. Blissful (7-2)

Trainer Cherie DeVaux’s 5-year-old mare has run in only two stakes races, finishing fourth both times. But Blissful seems to prefer this distance on the turf, registering three wins and two third-place finishes in seven tries. Overall, her record in 11 turf races is 3-1-3.

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In her last start, she posted an 88 Beyer Speed Figure in a $125,324 allowance race at Keeneland, which ranks among the best recent numbers in the field. Although Blissful held a considerable lead most of the way, the field drew close on the far turn and the mare could not hold off Girl Named Charlie, finishing second by 1 1/4 lengths. That race was 1 1/8 miles, though, so she could finish the job at a shorter distance.

Watch on YouTube

5. Tequilera 8-1

This 5-year-old mare, making her first start of 2024, showed good form at the end of last year for Maryland-based trainer Michael Matz, winning a $160,000 allowance race at Kentucky Downs in September and a $59,500 allowance optional claiming race at Laurel in November.

Matz brought her back near the end of 2023 for the 1-mile Grade 3 Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and she finished seventh in an eight-horse field. We could chalk up the lack of a closing bid to Tequilera being tired at the end of an eight-race campaign, or it could be she doesn’t belong in this class.

She’ll be coming into Pimlico fresh. Matz has a 13% winning percentage bringing horses back from 61 to 180 days’ rest. Lifetime, she’s 3-5-3 in 15 turf races.

Watch on YouTube

6. Five Towns (6-1)

Readers of the “How to train the racehorse” series know the story. Motion received the 4-year-old filly from England for 2024 and started her with two races at Gulfstream Park, winning a 1-mile $91,000 allowance optional claiming race on the synthetic track March 23.

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Then, Motion ran her in the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes at Laurel Park, a 1-mile race on the turf. After sitting toward the back of the five-horse pack, Five Towns showed brilliant closing speed to pass three rivals down the stretch and win by 1 1/4 lengths.

As Motion noted, her Beyer Speed Figure actually dropped from her prior win, to 79 from 81 — possibly showing the competition in the Dahlia was weak. She’s never run at this distance before, but her late burst last time suggests it suits her. Counting her career across the Atlantic, Five Towns has run eight times on the grass with two wins and one runner-up finish.

Motion has a 16% winning percentage running back a horse that won last time out and a 10% winning percentage in graded-stakes races.

Watch on YouTube

7. Fluffy Socks (6-5)

The most seasoned runner of the bunch, Fluffy Socks has gone against elite competition in Grade 1 turf races such as the Del Mar Oaks, Rodeo Drive Stakes, Diana Stakes, Matriarch Stakes and, in April, the Jenny Wiley Stakes. The 6-year-old mare’s best finish in racing’s upper tier is second. But she has two Grade 2 wins in the 2021 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park and the 2023 Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Last time out, in the $511,250 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, Fluffy Socks settled in seventh place early and was a nonfactor in the stretch run. Trainer Chad Brown is likely hoping a drop in class to easier competition will provide a clearer path back to the winner’s circle. Brown is one of the premier turf trainers in the country, winning at a 23% clip. His winning percentage in graded-stakes races is 19%.

One note of caution: Fluffy Socks has run at this distance and finished second five times but won only once. Even so, she is the class of the race with a 5-9-3 record on the turf for about $1.2 million in earnings.

Watch on YouTube

9. Ascendancy (20-1)

This 5-year-old mare was brilliant in 2023, winning five races in nine starts, including one stakes win on the dirt and one on the grass.

This year has been a different story. Trainer O.J. Jauregui has committed to the turf with Ascendancy, running her in the Queen of the Green Stakes at Turf Paradise, the Grade 3 Wilshire Stakes at Santa Anita and the Grade 2 Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs. She finished fifth, third, and sixth, respectively. Her lifetime record in nine turf races is 2-0-2.

Last time out in the Churchill Distaff, Ascendancy was stalking the leaders and saving ground on the rail. Coming down the stretch, she was passed by a trio of Chad Brown closers who finished 1-2-3 and flattened out.

She has put up solid Beyer Speed Figures, though, and her last two wins have come at this distance. Could be a good longshot play if she settles into her natural role as a closer.

Watch on YouTube

Note: No. 4 Cats Inthe Timber (4-1) and No. 8 Ninja Abarrio (8-1) are main-track-only entrants, meaning they will race only if track officials decide the turf course is too wet and shift the race to the dirt for safety reasons. In such a scenario, many of the turf horses will probably scratch from the race.

Check back for the next article in the series.

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