12/31/2009 12:00AM

Mott trying to fill some big shoes


ARCADIA, Calif. - The one, potentially apocalyptic encounter between Bill Mott and Bobby Frankel occurred on the afternoon of Oct. 28, 1995, in the paddock at Belmont Park, when Frankel demanded that Cigar's hind shoes be inspected for what he thought were possible violations. This was about 10 minutes before post time for the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Cigar was pulled briefly from the walking ring parade, and the shoes were okayed as worn. Mott steamed a bit - it was only natural - then pretty much forgot all about it while watching Cigar power to a 2 1/2-length victory, his 12th in a row, and lock down the title as Horse of the Year. Frankel's horse, the Juddmonte Farm entry Tinners Way, finished seventh.

Ancient history now, washed away by the sands of 14 years and more high-stakes races than anyone would care to count. At the time, even before Cigar began his historic streak, Frankel was on record expressing the deepest admiration for the kind of horsemanship represented by Mott, while Mott, 12 years younger than Frankel, was already on a path that mirrored Frankel's evolution from a claiming trainer to a Hall of Fame handler of prime horseflesh. One of the clients they shared, briefly, was Juddmonte Farms.

"I had a private job for the Firestones at the time, but I did take a few horses for outside clients," Mott recalled on New Year's Eve, while watching the snow fall outside his home in Saratoga Springs. "Repletion was one of them. We won a stakes in New York with him. There was a Seattle Slew filly named Country Store, and a half-brother to Zafonic."

This was around 1993 and 1994, when Frankel was in the early days of what turned out to be a glorious run with Juddmonte. Mott didn't drop the ball as much as Frankel ran with it to heights unimagined by even the Juddmonte brass, led by Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah and his chief American adviser, Dr. John Chandler.

"They didn't take anything away," Mott noted. "I think Bobby was just doing so well they just didn't replenish them."

What goes around, etc. . . . With the death of Frankel last Nov. 16, Juddmonte's American runners needed a new, high-profile home with a trainer at least comparable to Frankel's stature. Liken the moment to Calumet's transition from Jimmy Jones to Henry Forrest, or of the Phipps horses from Bill Winfrey to Eddie Neloy. Juddmonte found that home with Mott, and while most of the Juddmonte contingent is with Mott's main string in Florida, the plan was always to have a California presence as well.

Now, they have assembled behind Mott's webbings at Santa Anita, eventually to be a dozen strong in the care of top Mott assistant Leana Williford. The majority were already in California with Frankel's former assistant, Humberto Ascanio, who is now training a public stable of his own.

"You're only as good as the people you've got in place," Mott noted. "I'm pleased that I've got Leana out there. She's been with me a long time and knows the operation. I'll be coming out there soon, but right now I'm going through Leana, which is almost as good as being there as far as I'm concerned."

One of the new Mott runners is Treat Gently, a 5-year-old daughter of Cape Cross who will be Mott's first West Coast Juddmonte starter on Saturday at Santa Anita in the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap. While in France with Andre Fabre, Treat Gently won a Group 2 event and was far from embarrassed in her lone encounter with 2008 European Horse of the Year Zarkava. In two starts for Frankel, Treat Gently won an allowance race last July at Belmont and was a well-bet, well-beaten sixth in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine.

"Leana likes what she sees so far, and Humberto's been very good about the transfer," Mott said. "Just looking at her work pattern, she's been working every week for Humberto the last two months. The plan was, whatever Juddmonte had ready to run, to keep running them."

Frankel spent most of the season in New York over the past several years, giving Mott plenty of chances to recall that 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic. He laughed.

"In spite of that, we actually became fairly friendly over the years," Mott said. "At least as much as you could get friendly with Bobby. You can kind of tell when there's a mutual respect for each other's work, and I think that existed. I mean, I just look at his record and go 'Wow!' That year he won, what, 25 Grade 1 races was just incredible. I've never seen anything like that. You can be really good, but having something like that happen is almost surreal."

That was 2003, and in addition to Frankel's Eclipse Award as champion trainer, Juddmonte won Eclipse Awards as champion owner and breeder.

"I just hope they do everything the way they've done it in the past," Mott said. "We're going to have to do our best to keep up to the standards they're used to. Filling Bobby Frankel's shoes is a big job."

Just as filling the void left by Frankel's larger-than-life personality is patently impossible. Although, in the spirit of affectionate homage, Mott was willing to give it a try.

"Whaddya talkin' about?" Mott whined, slipping into a South Dakota version of Frankel's bullet-proof Brooklynese. "You gonna ride him? You shouldn't ride him. You should ride my horse. My horse is gonna win by five. You can't beat him. See, I told you he was gonna win. This horse has been training lights out!"

So that's how he got the job.