06/07/2010 1:40PM

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)

Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
Jay {Hovdey}, I'll tell you one thing. That Big Mare sure raises the size of the goosebumps. You've gotta love Zenyatta, the horse..She owns the finish line.
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
After Zenyatta romped on Sunday (6/13): In my opinion, her connections owe it to the sport to bring her east and run her in the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park on July 17, which while a Grade 2 at $750,000 is the richest race in the sport (aside from the BC) for females. That coincidentally is the next logical spot for Rachel Alexandra after her win on Saturday in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill. If I'm at Delaware Park, I offer to quadruple the Del 'Cap purse to $3 Million on the condition that both start, and if only one starts the purse is still $1 Million and if neither starts it remains at the $750,000 it currently is scheduled to be run for. If you had Zenyatta, would you send her east for the Del 'Cap? That's where I would have Zenyatta next.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Jay, It would seem everyone is acting AS IF Quality Road is running some sort of Iron Campaign. When last seen, QR had won at a mile in the G-3 Hal's Hope, won the 1 1/8m G-1 Donn, and won the G-1 1 m Met Mile. He figures to run no more than two or three preps for the BC Classic at Churchill Downs. My bet would be 2 for a grueling 6 race year. Zenyatta figures to have five in the bag by then and if Rachel joins the party, so much the better. Zenyatta improves as the races go longer and now that the next two BC's will be at CD the two coasts can join at some point in the Blue Grass state. (sure) May the best horse win for all to see. 10 furlongs would point to Big Z in my opinion.
Nick Milosevich More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hovdey, I just read the news today that the Mosses are pointing Zenyatta towards the Hirsch at Del Mar in August. This is dreaded news for the horse racing community, and for Zenyatta herself. Do you know the Mosses personally? If so, could you please go up to them and shake them furiously, or throw an ice-cold bucket of water on them, or anything that would make them realize they they are taking the same simple path with this horse? Have they heard of a horse named Quality Road and his exploits? Do they realize that at this rate, the BC Classic will not matter this year, either? By the time the race rolls around, Quality Road will have amassed a slew of the most prestigious Grade 1s this country has to offer, and will hold an insurmountable lead for Horse of the Year, just as Rachel did last year. Why are the Mosses taking this path? Are they completely oblivious to this reality? I simply cannot understand why they are choosing this familiar, underwhelming schedule for their incomparable mare. This is saddening to me, and I was hoping you could ask them about their decision and possibly pen an article about it. Thanks a bunch. Sincerely, Nick Milosevich
John Clarke More than 1 year ago
Great column on Bill Mott. He is an easy guy to root for. John
Jay Hovdey More than 1 year ago
Curt A -- It's Hovdey. Stay tuned.
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
Jay, Mr. Hovedy, It seems Mr. Nick M., is politely asking you about the same scenario you & myself have been debating for almost 1 full year now. Not that I need to refresh your memory, but, after the '09 HOY ceremony, you in no uncertain terms told me, that you sat & talked to J. Moss. {I criticized him for what he is/was; a publicity hound.}{retirement & un-retirement parades.} You told me he would hunt down all opposition. You would hold him to his word. Well, don't you think it's about time ? Again, I have nothing against the horse, herself. Moss & his entourage of goldbrickers, are leading us to deja vu all over again...All the bemoaning & crying crocodile tears, all because the Moss family wants an extension of sympathy. & please, I've heard about this East Coast bias BS, for about the 500 hundreth time. Call him out Jay...
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Well Jay, a well deserved tribute to a good guy that makes many come back to the sport. I was also lucky (I guess) enough to be at the finish line for that 1998 Belmont (still have my Real Quiet key chain) BUT, another lasting memory was at the paddock area as Bill Mott got Richter Scale ready for the True North Handicap at 6F. He was, ugh, under the horse and someone called out, "Is he going to win!" and Bill Mott, hoof in hand, looked up like he was at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and replied, "We're gonna try". And that is all anyone can really expect from those that walk as giants. An answer when none is required. Richter Scale of course won under Jerry Baily in 1:08 4/5. Quick horse. So congrats to all those involved in the win of the 142nd Belmont. Time only matters, I suppose, when your doing it.
MichaelM. More than 1 year ago
I made a serious mistake in my previous post leaving out Mike Smith. Congrats to him also.
MichaelM. More than 1 year ago
It wqs good to see all that is good about racing in the winner's circle at Belmont on Sat. Mott,Walden and Doug Cauthen who sounds just like his brother Steve. Congrats to all of them !