06/07/2010 12:40PM

Bill's Due


I usually try to watch the Belmont Stakes with Bill Mott. This is normally neutral ground, since Mott's involvement in the 3-year-old classics is rare. At one point I asked him if there had been a restraining order placed on his participation in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes. He grinned and said it was self-imposed, but I wasn't fooled. Once in awhile -- along with guys like Allen Jerkens, Ron McAnally and Richard Mandella -- Mott would suffer a bout of the Whittingham Syndrome, hailed among the finest trainers in the history of the sport, though lacking that one classic victory to seal the deal forever.

I missed the Belmont in person this year, but if I'd been there, I like to think that I might have had a good view.

I sat with Mott at the 1997 Belmont Stakes when Silver Charm put away Free House and had the Triple Crown within his grasp, before Touch Gold came along to seize the day. Mott is a diehard racing fan, first and last, and he was as excited as the next guy to see another Triple Crown in his lifetime. When the bubble burst, he just sat there, staring down at the racetrack, binoculars in his lap. "That is just a damn shame," he said. "I feel so bad for those people." He was talking not only about Bob and Beverly Lewis, the owners of Silver Charm, but also of the more than 70,000 in the house -- his house -- who'd just been punched in the gut.

I sat with Mott the following year when Victory Gallop nailed Real Quiet on the money. Poof went another chance at a Triple Crown winner, but Mott was not as bothered as the previous year. The week before, Elliott Walden, Victory Gallop's trainer, sprained his ankle in a pickup basketball game and was hobbling around on two of the tallest crutches you've ever seen. Walden knew that saddling a horse in a maiden claimer would be a challenge, let alone the Belmont, so he asked his pal Mott to give him a hand. Mott got that saddle on just right, allowing him to proclaim, after Victory Gallop's number came up, "Well, that'll probably be as close as I'll ever come to winning one of these."

I sat with Mott again at the 1999 Belmont Stakes when, for the third straight year, a Triple Crown winner was a real possibility. Mott had Illinois Derby winner Vision and Verse in the race--his fourth Belmont starter in 30 yerars as a trainer--but all eyes were on Charismatic. Vision and Verse was 54-1. Mott's attention was obviously on his horse as the leaders reached the final furlong. Lemon Drop Kid and Charismatic were battling for the lead with Vision and Verse right behind them, down on the inside. When Charismatic went wrong and faltered, Mott let out an, "Oh, no!" His colt got up to be second, beaten a head by Lemon Drop, as Charismatic faltered and still ran third. There was satisfaction in his colt's performance, but no particular joy.

Bill & Cigar In his Belmont office, Mott has the skeletel apparatus of a thoroughbred's leg on display. He says it reminds him every day of what he is asking his horses to do. Among the things he usually does not ask his horses to do is run a mile and a quarter before they turn three years old, run a mile and three-sixteenths two weeks later, or run a mile and a half on a deep, sandy racetrack on hot, muggy afternoons in early June. But when he does, attention needs to be paid.

There was no monkey on Bill Mott's back when it came to winning a Triple Crown event. Just as Charlie Whittingham waited until he was 73 to begin winning classics, Mott probably figures 56 is just about right. What's the rush? He was only waiting for Drosselmeyer to come along. Now, if WinStar could just toss a couple live young ones to Jerkens, McAnally or Mandella, maybe it's time for them to join Mott at the party.

(photo: Mott & Cigar, by Barbara Livingston)