10/31/2016 1:36PM

Hovdey: Shirreffs hopes to fill opening on résumé


There was nothing unusual about Bill Mott and John Shirreffs crossing paths near the Shirreffs barn at Santa Anita Park this week. The Breeders’ Cup was in the air, luring marquee trainers like flies to warm honey, and those two are always attracted to the taste of million-dollar races.

Their greeting was genial, and from there it would not have been a surprise if they’d tumbled together down memory lane, sharing Classic tales of Cigar and Zenyatta, better known in the superhero universe of Breeders’ Cup lore as Captain America and Wonder Woman. But instead, Mott’s opening parry was pure, good-natured smack imported straight from the mean streets of Belmont Park.

“What’s this I hear about you and a 2-year-old?” Mott cracked.

Shirreffs broke into a silly grin.

“Yeah, how about that?” he said. “Will wonders never cease?”

From there it devolved into a conversation between the pot and the kettle. Neither Shirreffs nor Mott has been known for his prolific work with 2-year-olds, and the fact that Shirreffs has one of the choices in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Saturday and Mott is live on Friday in the $1 million Juvenile Turf is worth a “Man Bites Dog” headline at the very least.

Shirreffs will be sending out FrontRunner Stakes winner Gormley for owners Ann and Jerry Moss, while Mott has Summer Stakes winner Good Samaritan teed up for the partnership of the China Horse Club and WinStar Farm. A win for either trainer would be a first.

Gormley is a robust son of Malibu Moon who will be only the fourth 2-year-old among 26 Breeders’ Cup starters for Shirreffs dating to 1994. The best any of them finished was fourth.

Mott’s first Breeders’ Cup was 1986. Of his 88 starters, 12 have been 2-year-olds, including second-place finishers Sweet Roberta and Take Me Out, but none of the rest was close.

A dozen babies in the Breeders’ Cup is hardly dabbling, but even Mott’s number pales when compared to the 2-year-old totals of Bob Baffert (44 of 90 starters), Todd Pletcher (44 of 119), and Pletcher’s mentor, D. Wayne Lukas (87 of 164).

“Was that John’s first 2-year-old Grade 1 winner?” wondered Jerry Moss shortly after Gormley took the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita in early October. “I think maybe it was.”

First colt, yes. Shirreffs came up with his breakthrough 2-year-old filly right away, her name emerging from a list of stable stars that included not only Zenyatta but Life Is Sweet, Giacomo, Tiago, Manistique, Harmonious, and Starrer.

“Hollywood Story,” Shirreffs said. “She broke her maiden in the 2003 Hollywood Starlet.”

Mott got the same question and went momentarily blank. A lifetime of training older horses like Cigar, Royal Delta, Escena, Theatrical, Drosselmeyer, and Paradise Creek will do that to you. It was suggested that he must have stumbled into one of those Grade 1 New York 2-year-old races somewhere along the way.

“That’s it,” Mott said, lighting up. “The Hopeful, with Majestic Warrior.”

He also won a Frizette with Confessional.

“I guess everyone’s forgotten that when I trained privately for 505 Farm, we had a whole bunch of 2-year-old winners who were sold at the dispersal,” Shirreffs said. “Swept Overboard, I’ve Decided, David Copperfield, Hook and Ladder – they all went on to win good races for other people.”

That is a fact, and ditto Mott, who put in the early work on Marty Wygod youngsters like After Market and Life Is Sweet before they were sent to California as older runners to be trained by – wait for it – John Shirreffs.

“And look what he did with them,” Mott said, with Shirreffs back to that grin. “Turned them into Grade 1 winners. Guess you can say I train 2-year-olds to win at 5.”

While Mott was bouncing around the Midwest working for Jack Van Berg, Shirreffs cut his teeth in the business working at Loma Rica Ranch in central California, taking young Thoroughbreds through their early lessons. He would say goodbye to each crop at the dawn of their 2-year-old season, and by then he could pretty much tell which ones would be heard from sooner than later.

“It wasn’t easy watching them load onto vans after all the time you spent with them,” Shirreffs said. “I learned early that you have to let them go, though. On to the next chapter.”

Gormley, named by Moss for a British artist, gave Shirreffs no reason not to go on. He won his maiden race at Del Mar on Sept. 4 and came back 27 days later to take the 1 1/16-mile FrontRunner from gate to wire, with an assist from a loose horse who compromised another runner with early speed.

“You always worry when that happens with 2-year-olds because they can be unpredictable,” Shirreffs said. “If they don’t start zig-zagging, you’ve got a chance. Fortunately, that one went straight and then lost interest around the turn.”

Shirreffs has had Breeders’ Cup starters since Zenyatta made her swan song in the 2010 Classic at Churchill Downs, the only loss of her career. None of those had a shot like this time around with Gormley, who has had Shirreffs humming this week in anticipation.

The fact that Gormley runs under Zenyatta’s colors is icing on the cake. Asked to describe his Juvenile starter, the trainer summoned a term straight out of 19th century horsemanship.

“Stout,” Shirreffs said, “and just about perfect.”