LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Trainer Graham Motion got to the winners' circle with Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and said it was "really sweet" to capture the roses.
But Motion said once a trainer has tasted victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown the, thirst to get back and win another one "might even be a little greater."
"It's such a great experience," Motion said.
Motion is one of three recent Derby-winning trainers – along with John Shirreffs and Doug O'Neill – who are back this year with a shot to win another garland of roses.
The three have invaded Churchill Downs this week with contenders coming off major prep victories. Motion's Irish War Cry is the fourth choice in the Derby after winning the Wood Memorial, while O'Neill's Irap was the first maiden to win the Blue Grass Stakes and Shirreffs saw his Gormley win the Santa Anita Derby.
"When I set off training, it wasn't like I had to win the Kentucky Derby," Motion said. "Yes, you would like to win the Derby but you know how difficult it is to even get a horse to the Derby. So, it's one of those when you win it you pinch yourself.
"And now to be back here with one of the favorites, you just have to feel very lucky."
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Shirreffs, who won the Derby with longshot Giacomo in 2005, said winning the first one gave him a drive and hunger to get back to the Day. He finished 18th in 2006 with A.P. Warrior and seventh in 2007 with Tiago.
"The thing about the big races and the Kentucky Derby, in particular, is there's that energy and excitement around the race," Shirreffs said. "It's almost like a renewal or a refreshing of all experiences that you have always dreamed of."
O'Neill, who is 2-for-5 in the Derby after winning with I'll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist last year, said a Derby win – or two – has definitely given him a "little swag" doing his every-day business.
"You are a little more calm and able to enjoy it more," O'Neill said after winning one. "If you get lucky to win any big race it definitely gives you a little swag and confidence, but you try not to air it out and look like a jerk.
"But it sure does gives you a lot of confidence in your abilities."
Motion said Irish War Cry is "certainly the livest shot" he's brought to the Derby, noting that Animal Kingdom was 20-1.
"This horse will have much shorter odds," Motion said. "And this horse is more accomplished than Animal Kingdom was but it takes a lot to win the Derby. You really need a special horse to win (the Derby)."
Irish War Cry has "one really bad race," said Motion, who added that he didn't have an excuse for a seventh-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes two starts ago. He rebounded to win the Wood Memorial last month.
"I think it was just a perfect storm of an odd track that day," he said. "It was really windy in Florida that weekend and the track kind of dried out and was cuppy. I hate to make excuses but I honestly think he laid too close to the pace on a cuppy track and he probably bounced a little bit coming off the Holy Bull (Stakes).
"It was a huge relief (in the Wood) to get me back where we were. It was good."
Shirreffs said Gormley has been a little inconsistent, including a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at his home track last fall. He took a two-month vacation before winning the Sham Stakes and then finishing a disappointing fourth in the San Felipe. He won the Santa Anita race at 6-1 odds.
"We always thought he would like to go a little farther than he had been, so he proved it to us," Shirreffs said. "We changed his style up a little bit. He's quick out of the gate, so that puts him on the lead if you want him on the lead.
"But he's best in more of a stalking position. We changed him a little and it worked out very well for us."
O'Neill said he's always had high hopes for Irap, a son of Tiznow. But after he finished fourth in the Sunland Derby he opted to take off his blinkers.
And he ran him back in the Bluegrass and won his first race ever.
"It's a credit to (owner) Paul Reddam," O'Neill said. "He had so much energy after the (Sunland) race. Paul said if doing that good what about pulling the blinkers off and coming back in 13 days. He moved forward and he's moved forward again.
"He's doing great right now."
And for all three, another Derby win is something they would relish – perhaps even more than winning the first.
"Oh yeah, and then some," Motion said with a smile. "And then some."
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