ELMONT, N.Y. – Bill Mott turned 60 in July, but in much the same way as his horses do, Mott isn’t getting older – he’s getting better.
In a career that will go down as among the best of any Thoroughbred trainer, Mott is in the midst of an exceptional year. With two months left in 2013, Mott has won 21 graded stakes, the most since he captured 23 in 2007, and only six behind his career high of 27 achieved in 1998.
His eight Grade 1 victories this year are the most he’s had since 1995, when he had 12, including eight with the incomparable Cigar. Through Sunday, Mott had won 100 races in 2013, making this the 21st consecutive year he has won at least that many.
“It’s fascinating to me, but it’s also gratifying when things work out well,” Mott said in a recent interview at Belmont Park. “I love the competition, and I love winning. Even sometimes getting your ass kicked – sometimes that makes the winning more special because we forget how hard it is to win a race, especially some of the big races.
“It’s very challenging. You got to have a lot of luck,” Mott added. “You got to have a lot of good horses and good people behind you to do it.”
Mott has many good people working for him. Assistants Leanna Willaford, Rodolphe Brisset, and Neil Poznansky help run the divisions, split between Belmont and Saratoga. Equally as important, though, Mott has good horses.
He is bringing five very good horses to the 30th Breeders’ Cup, to be held Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita. Among the contingent are the 5-year-old mare and two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Royal Delta for the Distaff, the 6-year-old three-time Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek, and the 7-year-old two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, both for the $5 million Classic. Mott also has the 3-year-old fillies Close Hatches and Emollient, for the Distaff and Filly and Mare Turf, both for the powerful Juddmonte Farms.
Royal Delta, a 10-time graded stakes winner, will try to become the first horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (called the Ladies’ Classic from 2008-12) for a third consecutive year. Only Goldikova, who won the Mile each year from 2008-10, has won the same Breeders’ Cup race three straight years.
Royal Delta has finished first or second in 17 of 21 races, a testament to the filly herself and the way she’s been managed by Mott.
Mott has trained a bevy of talented mares – he’s won the Distaff with fillies such as Escena, Ajina, and Unrivaled Belle – but said Royal Delta “definitely” is at the top of the list. Her development into a two-time champion and earner of more than $4 million has meant a lot to Mott, who also trained the mother, Delta Princess, for Prince Saud bin Khaled, who died in summer 2011.
Khaled’s death led to the dispersal of all of his bloodstock, including Royal Delta. Benjamin Leon purchased Royal Delta for $8.5 million and gave the horse back to Mott to train.
“The fact we were given the responsibility to continue her career leaves me with a feeling of some extra responsibility, satisfaction, and gratitude that I was able to get her back,” Mott said. “I think it not only meant a lot to me, but it really means a lot to your staff. I think everybody takes a lot of pride in the fact.”
After a second consecutive disastrous trip to Dubai, Royal Delta lost her comeback race at Churchill Downs. She rebounded with powerhouse victories in the Delaware Handicap and Personal Ensign. But she was upset in the Beldame by the 3-year-old Princess of Sylmar, whom she will face again in the Distaff.
Mott noted that he backed off Royal Delta in her training between the Personal Ensign and Beldame, hoping to save something for this race.
“I was thinking in my mind, ‘She’s so good, I can do that and still get away with it,’ and it didn’t work out that way,” Mott said.
Since the Beldame, Mott has ratcheted up Royal Delta’s training, and she has responded with three bullet workouts. After the Beldame, Mott decided, “We got to go ahead and let her train because I’ve seen her train strong too many times and run well.”
In the case of Ron the Greek and Flat Out, Mott was given those horses to train after they were already established. But under his care, they continued to flourish, if not improve.
Mott was given Ron the Greek in summer 2011 following a private purchase by Adam Wachtel and Nils Brous. He ran second in his first start, good enough to continue on. Instead, Mott pulled the plug.
“He had some back problems and some hind-end problems,” Mott said. “We just had to do a lot of therapy on the top side on his back. He’s had some other little issues. I would credit Erma Scott with hours and hours of massage and ice packs and hot packs. I’m talking sometimes a couple of hours a day, just like he was going into rehab every day.”
Last year, Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Stephen Foster – beating Wise Dan in the latter – both Grade 1 races. He ended the year with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This year, Ron the Greek won the Sunshine Millions Classic by 11 lengths but appeared to be tailing off, losing his next five races. Then, dismissed at 21-1 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Ron the Greek ran the race of his life, winning by 6 1/2 lengths.
“I truly don’t think there was a horse in the country that was going to beat Ron the Greek on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day,” Mott said. “I don’t know why. I can’t answer that. He just showed up.”
Entering the Classic, Ron the Greek has run in 16 consecutive stakes, never finishing worse than fourth.
Wachtel said Ron the Greek is a perfect example of what makes Mott a terrific horseman.
“If you let him do what he wants to do, he’s going to get the horse right,” Wachtel said. “Being patient and not worrying about what the next race in the condition book is, but looking long term and trying to build a career – I think that’s what he does. Whatever your approach is in the sport, be consistent with it, and he’s consistently patient.”
Mott took over the training of Flat Out in late winter 2012. The previous year, when trained by Scooter Dickey, Flat Out won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was the beaten favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
For Mott, Flat Out has finished in the top three in 9 of 11 races, including a win in the 2012 Jockey Club Gold Cup and a third in the Classic.
Mott, like those who trained Flat Out before him, has had to deal with Flat Out’s ever-fragile feet, which required training him in a variety of bar shoes last year.
To deal with Flat Out’s foot issues, Mott trains him at Payson Park in the winter and over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga the remainder of the year. Last year, Mott tried to train him at Belmont leading up to the Breeders’ Cup and foot issues resurfaced. The day after this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Flat Out went right back to Saratoga and was there before shipping to California over the weekend.
“I said, ‘Let’s not even experiment down here,’ ” Mott said. “Hopefully, we learned something, and hopefully it works out well.”
With a good showing this week, Mott could surpass D. Wayne Lukas as the Breeders’ Cup’s career leader in money won by a trainer. Mott has accumulated $16.3 million in purses, buoyed by 9 wins and 9 seconds from 73 starters. Lukas has won 19 races from 156 starters, and his horses have earned $20.3 million.
“Whether it’s the Breeders’ Cup money won or number of races won, I do take a lot of pride in that,” Mott said.
Whatever the results in California, Mott will head back East when the weekend is over and start working on next year. He may or may not have the likes of Royal Delta, Ron the Greek, or Flat Out to train, as the owners of those horses have yet to decide on their racing futures.
With or without them, Mott will carry on.
“I swear, if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I think I’d come out and do the same thing,” Mott said. “Probably the only thing I’d change in my life is I’d have a private jet.”
He’d probably name it Royal Delta.