10/24/2007 12:00AM

Mott remaking his reputation

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - The summer of 2007 signaled a renaissance of sorts in the training career of Bill Mott.

Although he's won more than 3,600 races, ranks third all-time in purse money won, and has been in the Hall of Fame for almost a decade, Mott had dropped out of the spotlight for several years following the loss of some key owners.

This year, Mott recaptured the public's attention by winning the Saratoga trainers' title with 27 victories. Twelve of those wins came with the type of horse he had not been known for being proficient with: 2-year-olds.

"That was fun because people don't expect it or think you're supposed to do it," said Mott.

Mott, 54, has won 23 races with 2-year-olds in 2007. He has had such a good year in the division that three of the five horses he is running in this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships are juveniles, including Prussian, who is one of the choices in Friday's inaugural $1 million Juvenile Turf. On Saturday, Mott will send out Z Humor in the $2 million Juvenile and Zee Zee in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. His other BC runners are Forefathers, a 3-year-old who was cross-entered in Friday's Dirt Mile and Saturday's Sprint, and the mare My Typhoon, who will face the boys in Saturday's $2 million Mile.

Mott would have had four 2-year-old runners had Majestic Warrior, this year's Hopeful winner, not suffered a hoof injury.

Of Mott's previous 48 Breeders' Cup starters, only four have been 2-year-olds. Sweet Roberta finished second to Go for Wand in the 1989 Juvenile Fillies, while Take Me Out was runner-up to Fly So Free in the 1990 Juvenile.

"I actually thought we did a very good job with our 2-year-olds," Mott said of his past experiences. "I always took pride in the fact they were pretty well-educated and had a good bottom under them. We bring them along, but we don't push them along."

In the mid-1990s, when he trained for the breeder Allen Paulson, Mott would often receive horses sired by Theatrical and Blushing John, who were not known for precocious offspring.

"We were lucky to run them at 2," Mott said.

Now, with the backing of the deep-pocketed Ahmed Zayat as well as George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, Mott is getting the type of 2-year-olds that can be successful early.

Zayat, an Egyptian-born entrepreneur, and Mott hooked up two years ago, and Mott has approximately 60 horses for him, including ZoHumor, third in the Champagne, and Zee Zee, who has raced exclusively on turf. Mott trains two other good 2-year-olds for Zayat, but both are sidelined - Alaazo, a debut winner at Monmouth, and J Z Warrior.

"I've told him, 'Mr. Zayat, you're going to ruin my reputation,' " Mott said. " 'You know I'm not supposed to be winning these 2-year-old races.' I think he's been under the impression if I had the right horse I could get it done. He's had a lot of faith in me."

"When we decided to give him horses we said 'We're not going to go by stereotypes,' " said Sobhy Sonbol, the racing manager for Zayat. "Because everybody said 'Oh, Bill Mott, he's good with older horses, grass horses, and all that.' I think it proves that if you give him the right horse he can train anything."

Mott said that Jessica Steinbrenner, George Steinbrenner's daughter, has been instrumental in sending Mott 2-year-old colts such as Majestic Warrior. In the past, the Steinbrenners would send Mott almost exclusively fillies.

"They made the decision to give me a chance with some colts, and I'm very grateful and I think it's worked out," Mott said.

Mott is hoping that his 2-year-olds can help him end an 0-for-21 slump in the Breeders' Cup dating back nine years. Although he has won five Breeders' Cup races and earned more than $8.5 million in the series, Mott has not won a Breeders' Cup race since Escena captured the 1998 Distaff.

Prussian, who is owned by Gary Knapp's Monticule Farm, is 2 for 2, having won a maiden race at Saratoga and the Grade 3 Summer Stakes at Woodbine, where he dueled through rapid fractions.

"If he'd learn to switch off a little bit, he'd be okay," Mott said.

Z Humor, a son of Distorted Humor, was a debut winner at Saratoga, then ran third in the Sapling at Monmouth Park after breaking poorly. He was an afterthought in the Champagne, but ran a solid third at 35-1. Zee Zee, a daughter of Exchange Rate, won the Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs on turf but has trained well on dirt in recent weeks.

Thirteen years ago, Mott took a horse who had been racing on turf, put him on dirt, and turned him into the sport's richest horse. Cigar won 16 consecutive races from 1994 through 1996, including the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic.

"He's one of those horses, over time people will accept him as a really good horse," Mott said. "I just think his reputation will become stronger over time. People realize how tough it is to win $10 million and 16 in a row."

Mott said he often thinks of Cigar when he sees a horse who he thinks can't get beat.

"It gives you a reality check, because here's a horse I think is good and is going to win, and something happens," Mott said. "You think, Jeez, Cigar was really good, wasn't he?"