09/27/2005 12:00AM

Mott-Bailey team dominant once again

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Ten years ago, trainer Bill Mott (above) and jockey Jerry Bailey combined to win the Breeders' Cup Classic with Cigar. Saturday at Belmont, the famous partners will try to get three horses ready for the Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Jerry Bailey and Bill Mott never truly broke up, it's just that they weren't seeing as much of each other as they had when they were dominating Thoroughbred racing in the mid- to late 1990's.

But the dynamic duo are back to their dominant ways, at least through the first three weeks of Belmont's fall meet. Mott is leading the trainer standings with 11 wins from 25 starters, while Bailey is a gaudy 20 for 40 through the first 13 racing days of this meet. Together, Mott and Bailey are 10 for 17.

This weekend, when Belmont plays host to eight stakes, including five Grade 1's, Mott and Bailey will be center stage once again. Mott will give Bailey a leg up in four graded events that could all have implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships to be held here on Oct. 29.

It's hard to believe it was a decade ago that Bailey rode the Mott-trained Cigar to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, capping a 10-for-10 season for the horse. It also capped a year in which Bailey and Mott teamed to win 66 races and more than $7.2 million in purses. That began an eight-year stretch when the combination of Mott and Bailey averaged 72 winners from 269 starters and more than $4.5 million in purse money won. For their careers, Mott and Bailey have teamed to win 726 races and more than $45 million in purses.

But in 2003 and 2004, the Mott and Bailey team drifted. They still won their share of races, but not like before. In 2003, Mott and Bailey went 39 for 154 together. Last year, they were just 34 for 142.

Allen Paulson, Mott's primary owner had died, and it took Mott - a two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer - a while to build his stable back. Bailey, meanwhile, had found success with Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert, while racking up seven Eclipse Awards. But in his heart, Bailey always knew Mott would get back to the upper echelon.

"He's just way too good of a horseman not to,'' Bailey said.

And Bailey, 48, was glad that Mott got back before he retired from riding, perhaps at the end of next year. Bailey, who ranks second all-time in purse money won by a jockey with more than $290 million, has targeted $300 million as his goal.

"I've got a great appreciation for him not only for what he did for my career during the 1990's, but when he had to regroup and build his stable back he was very gracious in letting me pick and choose other horses,'' Bailey said. "He didn't have a chip on his shoulder at all about that, and you don't always run into that.''

Mott said he understood when Bailey went elsewhere.

"They've got to make the best of the opportunities that they've got available,'' Mott said. "If it was a toss-up where there were two horses and they were close, he would still ride mine. But I told him, 'If you're on a steamer or a potential champion, go for it.' "

Mott, who has trained horses for nearly 30 years and ranks third all-time in purse money won, has won 115 races already this year, one less than his total for 2004. He has also won more than $7 million in earnings, surpassing his totals from each of the past two seasons.

"The thing is, about the business, you just realize that everything sort of cycles and it's all about the horses really,'' said Mott, 52. "Obviously, you've got to do the right things with them. Not every year are you going to get the same group. The same horses we had in '94 to '97, they're all gone, and that doesn't mean you're going to get replacements that are always as good as the ones you had.''

Saturday, Mott and Bailey will join forces with Sweet Symphony in the Beldame, Shakespeare in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Sand Springs in the Flower Bowl. All three Grade 1 races carry purses of $750,000. Sunday, Bailey will ride Silver Tree in the Grade 2, $350,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Sweet Symphony and Shakespeare are 4 for 4, but both face tests. Sweet Symphony, who won the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga, will face older horses for the first time in the Beldame.

"She hasn't been a product of things going her own way,'' Bailey said. "Her wins have been legitimate; things haven't necessarily gone her own way, and she doesn't need things to go her own way.''

Shakespeare has come back from a near career-ending injury to win a strong second-level allowance race at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap last out. He makes the difficult jump from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles.

Bailey said Shakespeare gives him "chills down my spine because I haven't got the best of him yet. He beat a horse at Saratoga that's a nice horse and an accomplished horse, and then he came back the other day and ran as impressive a race - especially the last three-eighths of a mile - as you could possibly run. The bar gets higher and he's going to have to perform better, but I think he's up to the task.''

Like Shakespeare, Sand Springs will try a distance she has yet to prove she can handle when she runs 10 furlongs in the Flower Bowl. Bailey wasn't aboard for Sand Springs's last two wins, but has ridden her before. Sand Springs has yet to win beyond nine furlongs.

"If she's going to get it done, it will be out of that barn,'' Bailey said.

Mott said Bailey "is very much the same'' rider now as he was a decade ago.

"I think a lot of times with older riders, the longer they've been riding you may see a guy get a little cautious, a little hesitant, not try as hard,'' Mott said. "But with him he's very much the same as he was.''

So are the results now that Mott and Bailey are together again.

Together again

Ten years ago, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jerry Bailey combined to win the Breeders' Cup Classic with Cigar. Saturday at Belmont, the famous partners will try to get three horses ready for the Cup:

Sand Springs
Flower Bowl (BC Filly & Mare Turf)

Shakespeare
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (BC Turf)

Sweet Symphony
Beldame Stakes (BC Distaff)