Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Horses Teach Clapham 'Something New Every Day' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Horses Teach Clapham ‘Something New Every Day’

Clapham, shown aboard Miss Temple City in Newmarket

“Are you all right to talk while I hold a horse?”

Alice Clapham's first words to a reporter who had scheduled an interview say everything about her. Horses always come first. And she is always pressed for time as a traveling assistant to highly-respected trainer Graham Motion. Clapham, 52, has been all horses, all day since she grew up on a farm in Basington, England that was owned by her parents, Jennifer and Derck. They developed event horses and oversaw a modest breeding operation.

Clapham came to the United States in 1996.

“Originally I came for three months just to get experience,” she said. “I was always of the belief that you have to keep learning, and with horses you learn something new every day. I wanted to do something different for a couple of months and come over and see how everything is done over here. And I ended up staying.”

Motion is forever grateful that she did. She joined his Herringswell Stables in 2007 and, with her riding ability and horsemanship, eventually became an integral part of an operation that sometimes goes global.

“She is my right-hand person,” said Motion, also born in England. “She will run the show where I am not. She goes to far locations with the best horses.”

Clapham and 3-year-old Spendarella (NY) made a strong impression in June at Royal Ascot with a valiant second-place effort in the Coronation Stakes (G1). She will forever treasure her memories of Animal Kingdom's 2013 Dubai World Cup triumph – even if a mishap during the journey cost her feeling in her right index finger.

Although the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner knew Clapham well and she knew him as well as anyone could, he represented an enormous challenge while they were together so far from home.

“He was tricky at best, especially when he was out of the country,” Motion said. “I remember that week in Dubai we were kind of on pins and needles because we knew how well he was doing but at any minute he could explode.”

With the help of Clapham's calming influence, Animal Kingdom kept it together for the most part and the $10 million Dubai World Cup was every bit as special as his Derby triumph.

“To go and have a horse there and for him to win like he did,” she said, “it was just an amazing experience.”

Clapham will never forget the sight of Animal Kingdom, after tracking pace-setting mare Royal Delta, changing leads on cue and surging into the lead for jockey Joel Rosario as they stormed around the final turn. She worried that Rosario might have moved too soon.

“You are waiting all the way up the stretch,” Clapham said. “You could see some horses coming, but he just had gone so easy and so well. It's an amazing feeling just watching them go and you're like, 'He's going to win this!' “

The moment was so thrilling that Clapham forgave the transgression that followed while they were in England and nearly claimed her right index finger.

“He can get a little full of himself. He was a big, strapping colt,” Clapham said of Animal Kingdom. “I was just brushing him and he was getting a little tickly and he turned and my finger happened to be in the way. He just grabbed a hold of it.”

By the time he was done, the bone was exposed and the surgeon faced a tall task.

“They basically stitched it back together and said, 'Hopefully, it will mend right.' Luckily, it did,” she said. “I don't have much feeling in there, but that's all part of life. Things happen.”

Fortunately, Spendarella is a much safer traveling companion.

“She can be a little feisty, but she's lovely,” Clapham said. “She's got a great temperament for a 3-year-old. She's been like that since she came in as a 2-year-old. She's always been professional and wants to do the right thing.”

Clapham adjusts to whatever comes her way. In addition to her travel abroad, she has ventured to California, Florida and Kentucky for Motion, who operates out of Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. She is currently overseeing a string of approximately a dozen horses or so at Saratoga. She has no idea what might be next.

“It's always just you get to the end of the meet and see where we need to go,” she said. “It's all part of the job I have. It's the way it is.”

Motion appreciates Clapham's team-first approach and her willingness to ask questions even when she is quite sure of the answer. They typically think along the same lines.

“Listen, it's irreplaceable,” Motion said. “To have confidence in somebody the way I have confidence in Alice, that's something that comes over a very long period of time. It's something that doesn't happen overnight. It's a body of work and I feel extremely fortunate to have her.”

Clapham stopped galloping horses 18 months ago in a concession to a sore back and bad knee.

“I had to learn to watch rather than feeling,” she said of the transition.

As for the interview conducted while Meander, a 2-year-old filly, grazed on some grass outside Barn 82, that went well except for one interruption. Meander abruptly sank to the ground and proceeded to roll in the dirt like a playful child.

Clapham laughed with delight.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest someone as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the individual's background.

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