07/21/2002 11:00PM

Bill Wildes: Songwriter, horse whisperer


DEL MAR, Calif. - When Mutinyonthebounty heads to the post for the second division of the Oceanside Stakes on Wednesday's opening-day card at Del Mar, it will be the culmination of months of unorthodox preparation for a colt who became so recalcitrant after arriving in this country that trainer Beau Greely had to call for help.

Through a friend of a friend, Greely learned of Bill Wildes, who specializes in handling troublesome horses at a ranch in Pico Rivera, east of Los Angeles. For the past few months, Mutinyonthebounty has spent half the week training with Greely at Hollywood Park, the other half with Wildes in Pico Rivera.

He's not exactly a pussycat yet, but Greely marvels at how far Mutinyonthebounty has come. "When we first got him here, he trained for a week and a half, and then he refused," Greely said at Hollywood Park. "We tried four different riders, but couldn't get him to train. Bill's done a phenomenal job with him."

Wildes, 55, has an eclectic background that seems drawn from a Western novel. He grew up in Connecticut, then moved with his family to Santa Monica when he was 14. He went to Fresno State for one year on a golf scholarship but dropped out to pursue his passion, training and riding horses.

In 1977 in Reno, Nev., Wildes won the World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity, a discipline that involves "cutting, reining, working with cow horses, all in one," usually with a Quarter Horse, Wildes said. "It pays big money," he said.

So does songwriting, which for Wildes went from hobby to vocation. His best-known song is "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," which he co-wrote with Byrds founding member Chris Hillman and became a hit single for the Desert Rose Band when it was released in 1987. Wildes, who continues to write country-rock songs, also has written for Emmylou Harris.

Wildes now keeps one hand in songwriting, another in horse racing. About two and a half years ago, he started dealing with troublesome racehorses, first with Quarter Horses sent to him by long-time friend Bobby Adair, a former Quarter Horse jockey. When some of them returned to the track and won, his reputation began to grow. He now has 25 horses at his stable, some pleasure horses he rides, some racehorses in various stages of training.

The refrain for "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" goes: "One step forward, and two steps back, nobody gets too far like that. One step forward and two steps back, this kind of dance can never last." It is a prescient lyric for Mutinyonthebounty, and though there have been some hiccups along the way, both Greely and Wildes are now cautiously optimistic that Mutinyonthebounty will perform at the level expected of a colt who was a promising 2-year-old last year in Europe.

Because of his pedigree - he's a son of Sadler's Wells - gelding was not an option. "He's too valuable," Greely said.

"He's not a mean horse, but he's very studdish," Wildes said. "The first thing I tried to do was get him to tolerate a few mechanics without using a whip. Everything he did, we did something to counteract it. I would do things to keep his front feet busy. Back him up, turn him around. If he reared up, I would not whip him. He came along pretty good."

Jockey Mike Smith, who will ride Mutinyonthebounty on Wednesday, worked the colt once a week at Hollywood Park beginning about a month ago. But two weeks ago, Mutinyonthebounty balked at working one morning. "We did it twice with success, but then we hit a little wall," Wildes said.

To keep Mutinyonthebounty fresh, Wildes has taken him on trails, to a nearby river bottom, and to a riding arena. "It gives you control. It's what you do with a reining horse," Wildes said. Wildes has trained Mutinyonthebounty to walk toward the starting gate when an assistant starter merely beckons the colt with a wave of his right hand. "He'll put his head against the hand. It's a sanctuary for him," Wildes said.

Greely said the first time he saw the unorthodox methods Wildes was using, any uneasiness was mitigated by the progress he saw. "I probably scared him at first," Wildes said, laughing.

"This is an extremely complex colt," Wildes said. "He's a deep thinker. He's got deep-seated problems. He probably had some soundness problems before. That's all a guess. He's a meek horse in a way. He doesn't have much of a pain threshold. He's smart. He found complex ways of holding on to it. But I've had a ball with him. Beau's a cool guy. He has no ego. He just wants to do what's best for the horse."

Greely will entrust Wildes with the colt right up to post time. Wildes will be on the pony that accompanies Mutinyonthebounty to the starting gate. "I'm going to be with him every step of the way," Wildes said. After all these months, taking all these steps forward, why chance taking a step back?