Jun 26 2014

Know Your Trainers – Christophe Clement vs. Graham Motion

On a recent visit to Belmont Park, I witnessed an exhilarating finish between Walk Close and Wave The Flag.  Both horses rushed to the finish line, overtaking the 3-5 favorite Sweet Acclaim in the final yards.  A nose separated the tandem at the wire.  Together, they combined for a $155 exacta.  The trainers of the top two finishers: Christophe Clement and Graham Motion.  Below is a video replay of the exciting race.  Walk Close is #3 and Wave The Flag is #7.

This race was a $100,000 turf stakes race.  And, moments after the finish, I had a flashback to an eerily similar race at Keeneland in April where another two horses trained by Motion and Clement  raced to the line, besting a 3-5 favorite in the Grade-3 $150,000 Bewitch Stakes.  On that day the two trainer’s charges (Inimitable Romanee and Aigue Marine) combined for a $263 exacta.  They went off at odds of 14-1 and 20-1.  For those keeping score in these two races, it’s Motion-1 and Clement-1 … for a push.

For horseplayers that track trainer statistics, the outcome of these two races were predictable and profitable.  We choose these two trainers for our next “Know Your Trainers” segment to explain why.

First, similar to our match-up between Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott, we will start our review with Graded Stakes races.  Since Clement and Motion have very few starts on dirt or in turf sprints for Graded Stakes races, we will consider only their results in Turf Routes. Here are their statistics for the past two years.

Clement Motion Grd Stk Turf Route

The chart points out that both Clement and Motion have struggled winning Grade-1 turf route races in the past two years, combining for only 1 win in 39 starts. With that said, digging into the results a little further, five of the six G1 Place finishes for Christophe Clement were by 11/2 lengths or less.  So he endured some very close seconds to be sure.

The G2/G3 statistics yield rosier results. For Clement, both grades show a very solid win percentage over 20%, In-The-Money 50%, and an ROI close to $2.  For Motion,  in Grade-2, though he was unable to get a win, he did manage to get 6 out of 18 horses into the Place position.

Graham Motion’s results in Grade-3 races are very enticing to a horseplayer.  His ROI of $4.83 is exceptional, and when we looked closer, we found he had FIVE winners who went off at double-digit odds.  This includes the aforementioned Inimitable Romanee at odds of 14-1.

Speaking of double-digit odds, the following chart shows how our two trainers fared when their horses went off at odds of 10-1 or more in Turf races.

Clement Motion Double Digit Turf Dog

Considering that many trainers struggle to obtain an overall win percentage of more than 10%, the fact that these two trainers have done it consistently with longshots is pretty amazing.  Digging deeper, we find that of the seven Place horses for Christophe Clement, FIVE finished less than 1-length behind the winner.  If one or two of them had got up for the win, his ROI likely shoots up to more than $5.  Bottom line, even when the odds board seems against them, don’t discard horses sent out by these two trainers on the turf.

Now that we’ve sung the praises of these two trainers on the turf, let’s contrast that with some dirt statistics.  Specifically, given that it’s the time of year for 2-year old horses to start racing, let’s look at the results for their 2-Year old horses on dirt.  We separate the results by distance, sprint (Spr) and route (Rt).

Clement Motion 2 Year Old Dirt

The top of the chart shows the results for Sprint races only. Clement has a Win% that is only 12% and his ROI of $0.82 makes his 2-Year Old sprint races quite unprofitable for a Win-Betting horseplayer. His route races are similar in terms of  win percentage and ROI.  But, his ITM% for route races is a solid 65%, suggesting that it’s wise to include his horses in many exotic intra-race wagers.

You can see that Graham Motion has 1/3 the number of 2-year old dirt sprinters as Christophe Clement.  While his ROI is a bit low ($1.32), he did manage to hit the board with an impressive 73% of his starters.  Digging deeper, we found that FIVE of the eight 2nd place dirt sprinters lost by less than 1-length. Given that, it’s reasonable to assume that his 2-year dirt sprinters were highly competitive and should be given serious consideration.

Motion, having only six dirt route starters, did not hit the board with any.  The limited number of dirt starts suggests that his 2-year old routers are intended for turf more than dirt.

If you read the Pletcher vs. Mott “Know Your Trainers” article, you will recognize that the dirt-turf results for these two trainers is directly opposite; suggesting that the horses in the Clement and Motion’s stables are more suited to turf than dirt. At least for the time being.

To finish the point about turf over dirt, let’s look at how their 2-year old horses have done on the turf over the past two years.

Clement Motion 2 Year FTS Turf Route

Clement Motion 2 Year FTS Turf Sprints

From these charts it’s clear to see that Christophe Clement excels with 2-year old Firsters going both short and long on the turf. His ROI of $5.13 for routers and $3.82 for sprinters is quite exceptional.  And, in the turf sprint category, 8 of his 14 starters finished 1st or 2nd.  While Graham Motion’s results aren’t quite as spectacular for the past two years, he does have an ROI over $2 in both sprint and route categories.

Reviewing this information, you might be inclined to conclude that Graham Motion and Christophe Clement are “Turf” trainers. And, in fact, they have often been labeled with that moniker. In response to that comment, Christophe Clement replied, “It’s better to be labeled as something rather than nothing.”  With that said, his recent victory in the Grade-1 Belmont Stakes (on dirt) with Tonalist indicates he is plenty capable of preparing horses for dirt surfaces.

Regarding Graham Motion, let’s not forget he won the 2011 Kentucky Derby (on dirt) with a horse called Animal Kingdom.  In 2012, Motion trained Animal Kingdom up to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile off an 8-month layoff.  He finished a fast closing 2nd (at 10-1 odds) to three-time horse of the year Wise Dan.  Then, in 2013 he won the Dubai World Cup (on synthetic), again with Animal Kingdom.  In total, this horse won $8.3 million on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.

I believe it’s a fair statement to suggest that given the right horse, both Christophe Clement and Graham Motion can prepare horses to run their best on any surface at any distance.

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By Neal Benoit

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