Motivator cruises to Epsom Derby victory

EPSOM, England -- Motivator needed little encouragement from jockey Johnny Murtagh on Saturday as he quickened clear to an overpowering five-length victory in the 226th running of the $2.25 million Epsom Derby.

Cruising along up the Epsom hill in third place through the first half of the 1 1/2-mile classic, Motivator had only the pacesetting Hattan to pass as they rounded Tattenham Corner, four furlongs from home. Murtagh did not even push Motivator's button until he had taken command at the quarter pole, at which point the colt, a son of Montjeu, sped clear. Walk in the Park, also by the first-year stallion Montjeu, charged home for second, three lengths in front of Godolphin's Irish 2000 Guineas winner, Dubawi. Fracas finished fourth, Gypsy King, the best of trainer Aidan O'Brien's four runners, came home fifth.

The winning time on ground labeled good, good to firm in places, was a more-than-respectable 2:35.69.

Purchased at Tattersalls as a yearling for $126,000, Motivator was turned over to trainer Michael Bell by management for the colt's 230 owners who make up the Royal Ascot Racing Club. In remaining undefeated through four races, Motivator has improved by leaps and bounds with each start: a one-mile Newmarket maiden last August, the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy in October, and the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York on May 12.

"He's the best horse I've ever trained," said a sheepish-looking Bell. "What is encouraging was that he had never been hit before, and when Johnny gave him a crack, he just went away from them."

The 11-2 Walk in the Park may have run just as well as Motivator, who went off as the 3-1 favorite in the 13-runner field, but he made his move much too late.

"I got great acceleration," said the runner-up's rider, Alan Munro, "but Motivator was gone. If we meet again, I'll have to ride Walk in the Park more positively."

For Murtagh, Motivator was his third Derby score, the first two having come with Sinndar and High Chaparral. For Bell, for whom Motivator was his first Derby starter in 17 years, and only his second overall, the future looks rosy.

"Obviously, the next stage will be the Irish Derby, but we are looking at him as an Arc horse," the 44-year-old trainer said.

While Motivator, who earned $1.3 million for his Derby heroics, is in the process of accumulating a big bankroll, his owners at the Royal Ascot Racing Club are in the peculiar position of not profiting outright from his victories.

In fact, the 230 club members actually lease Motivator from Ascot Racecourse, which administrates the racing club under the management of Harry Herbert. All members will get from Motivator's income is a reduction in their annual $8,500 membership fees, money which enables them to go racing at Ascot in the finest style.

Should, as seems likely, Motivator eventually pursue a career at stud, Club members will share the syndication price 50-50 with Ascot Racecourse. This arrangement does not seem to disturb the members, one of whom said after the Derby that "We are all very happy indeed."

And well they should be, as Motivator could well prove to be a very special racehorse.