Horse racing: Stars could be lining up again for Mott
Bill Mott wouldn’t mind getting the broom out for another sweep.
The first step comes today, when he opens the closet door.
Last year, the Hall of Famer became the second trainer to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Ladies’ Classic in the same year, and he has as good a chance as anybody to do it again this year.
The final push begins today, when Belmont Park hosts its Super Saturday of Breeders’ Cup preps, coupled with a bevy of Grade I stakes on the west coast at Santa Anita.
In New York, Mott has the 2011 BC Ladies Classic winner Royal Delta lined up as the even-money morning-line favorite in the Grade I Beldame for a rematch against It’s Tricky, as well as two top BC Classic contenders, Flat Out and Ron the Greek, in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With the threat of rain, Belmont canceled Friday’s card to help ensure good surfaces for today’s stakes-studded program, which also includes the Kelso, Vosburgh, Flower Bowl and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
Besides Royal Delta and Ron the Greek, who is 5-2 in the JCGC, Mott also has the favorite in the one-mile Kelso, Woodward winner To Honor and Serve, who may actually wind up in the BC Classic, even though the Kelso is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the BC Dirt Mile.
“I’m not worried about what we did last year. Last year is in the past, and it’s always a new challenge when you go to a new group of horses and a new situation and a new racetrack,” Mott said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “We’ll try to do the best we can with each individual. And it’s tough enough to win one of those races, much less duplicate a pair of them, like we did last year.”
With six Grade I winners among 10 horses entered, the $1 million JCGC appears to have one of the most wide-open fields on the card.
Mott brings Ron the Greek and Flat Out into the race off a second and third, respectively, to Fort Larned in the Whitney at Saratoga Race Course. Like those two, Fort Larned skipped the Woodward and is 7-2 in the JCGC.
Flat Out, then trained by Scooter Dickey, hasn’t won since last year’s JCGC, when he beat Drosselmeyer by 11⁄4 lengths. Drosselmeyer came back to finish three lengths ahead of Flat Out, who was fifth, in the BC Classic to complete a stunning weekend for Mott.
Today’s JCGC will be Flat Out’s third start since being transferred to Mott’s barn.
“I think we’ve had a fair amount of time to get over the Whitney,” Mott said. “Obviously, he’s run well over the track. The third part of your question is [Joel] Rosario is going to ride him.”
Besides Fort Larned, Flat Out and Ron the Greek, who has won the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster this year, the other Grade I winners in the field are Stay Thirsty (2011 Travers), Ruler on Ice (2011 Belmont Stakes) and Hymn Book (2012 Donn Handicap).
If Royal Delta finishes second to It’s Tricky — or anyone else, for that matter — it may actually be a good omen for her BC Ladies’ Classic chances, based on Mott’s Beldame-BC history.
He has won primary Breeders’ Cup route race for fillies and mares three times, and each of them was second in the Beldame as a final prep, including Royal Delta, who lost to Havre de Grace at Belmont last year.
Ajina and Unrivaled Belle also won the BC for Mott after Beldame runner-up finishes.
“Do I hope I win it? Yes, I’d love to win it,” Mott said. “But if I’m second, maybe it’s something to be said for what’s to come.”
They’ll have to get past It’s Tricky, who put together one of the most memorable performances of the 2012 Saratoga meet, despite finishing third in the Personal Ensign.
She stumbled so badly out of the gate that jockey Eddie Castro nearly went over the top of her, but she valiantly recovered well enough to get within a length and a half of long shot Love and Pride, while Royal Delta was in position to catch Love and Pride, but never really threatened until it was too late, in the final strides.
It was Royal Delta’s first loss in three starts under Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
“I wasn’t overly critical of the ride,” Mott said. “Knowing the filly a little better now, maybe he’d make an adjustment in the future. But I don’t think by any means it was what we refer to as a horrible ride. I think you’ve got to remember that we gave the winner 10 pounds in there.”
Last year, It’s Tricky beat Royal Delta in the Coaching Club American Oaks, but was second to her in the Alabama and Breeders’ Cup.
The Beldame will be their second meeting this year.
“I think you’re going to see It’s Tricky with a lot more speed without a stumble from the gate,” Mott said. “I think they probably have the intentions of laying up close, and they’re going to make us try to catch her.”
Since finishing seventh in the BC Classic last year, To Honor and Serve, who is 8-5 in the Kelso, hasn’t done much wrong, winning the Grade I Cigar Mile, Grade III Westchester and Woodward.
His only losses in that span were a third behind Shackleford and Caleb’s Posse in the Met Mile and a fourth behind Mucho Macho Man, Hymn Book and Trickmeister in the Suburban.
Mott blamed an excessively hot day for throwing To Honor and Serve off his game in the Suburban.
The son of Bernardini, who is owned by Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation, came back to hold off Mucho Macho Man by a neck in the Woodward, and will face Shackleford again today.
“I think we’re probably leaning in the direction of the Classic, and I think the connections would like to give that a chance for the year-end honors,” Mott said.
Trainer Dale Romans said that he would never run Shackleford on an off track again, after the 2011 Preakness winner was last of eight in the mud in the A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga.
He may not have a choice today, if he wants to get a needed prep before the Breeders’ Cup, but at least the New York Racing Association was able to assuage the impact of the rain by keeping the main track sealed on Friday.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown has a formidable pair in the Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on the turf, in Dream Peace making her second North American start and Zagora, who gave Brown the first Grade I win of his career as a head trainer in the Diana at Saratoga last year.
The Irish-bred Dream Peace was second to Winter Memories in the Diana in July (Zagora was third) while Robert Collet was the trainer of record.
The Flower Bowl field includes Grade I Beverly D. winner I’m a Dreamer, who won the Grade I E.P. Taylor at Woodbine last year.
Finnegans Wake, owned in part by Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs through Donegal Racing, will face a stiff test as the only 3-year-old in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
The field includes 4-5 Point of Entry, who has won four straight, the last two of which were the Grade I Man o’ War at Belmont and the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga.
Front-runner Little Mike won the Arlington Million last time out in his only career race longer than a mile and an eighth, and Treasure Beach won the Grade I Secretariat last year after coming to North America as a Group 1 winner in Ireland.
The Vosburgh field includes the top two from the Vanderbilt, 36-1 long shot Poseidon’s Warrior and Justin Phillip.
SANTA ANITA CARD
Santa Anita’s big stakes lineup will look unfamiliar to traditionalists, as all of the races have been renamed after California-based star horses of the past, but they’ll recognize many of the runners in the fields.
Most prominent among them is Game On Dude, who is 3-5 in the Awesome Again and gets a rider switch from Chantal Sutherland to Rafael Bejarano after a second to Dullahan in the Pacific Classic.
Bejarano got a scare on the opening day of the meet on Friday when his mount in the fifth race, Just a Mirage, broke down and caused an ugly spill.
The jockey took off the rest of his mounts, but is expected to ride today.
Another of the five BC “Win and You’re In” races on the card is the Zenyatta.
The nine-horse field includes Include Me Out, Switch and Love and Pride.
Include Me Out is having a spectacular season in California, with four wins and a second from five starts, all Grade II or better.
In Grade I competition, she’s won the Clement L. Hirsch and Santa Margarita, and was second to Love Theway Youare in the Vanity.
AROUND THE TRACKS
On Sunday, the New York-bred Willy Beamin will shoot for his seventh straight as the 4-1 co-second choice in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.
He’s coming off a remarkable Saratoga meet in which he beat state-breds in the Albany, then raced back four days later against open company and won the Grade I King’s Bishop on Travers Day. . . .
With Friday’s Belmont card cancelled, there’s a $96,841 carryover into today’s Pick 6.
It’s not an all-stakes Pick 6, as it starts with the Kelso in the sixth race and finishes with the 11th, a maiden race for New York-breds on the turf. . . .
Owner Roddy Valente of Loudonville has two in the 50th New York Breeders’ Futurity, Shot Rock and the gelding Stoneless, as Finger Lakes offers three stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds today.
Stoneless broke his maiden at Saratoga, then was fourth in the Aspirant. . . .
Trainer James Bond got the 1,000th win of his career with Messorio, owned by his wife, Tina, in the fourth race at Finger Lakes on Friday. . . .
Delaware Park cancelled its Thursday card due to lack of entries. . . .
No jockeys were hurt, and one horse was hurt, but not fatally, when the field for the eighth race at Hoosier Park on Thursday ran into the starting gate as they headed down the stretch.
Track officials said that, after the start, the tractor that pulls the gate malfunctioned after moving 8-10 feet, leaving the gate in the middle of the track when the eight horses came back around.
The National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association will honor Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez and his agent, Ivan Puhich, recently retired Churchill Downs track superintendent Raymond “Butch” Lehr, and two-time Eclipse Award recipient Bill Mooney at its annual awards dinner on Oct. 31 in Pasadena, Calif.
Gutierrez, 25, and Puhich, an agent since 1944, will receive the Mr. Fitz Award, named for the late Hall of Fame trainer Jim “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, for typifying the spirit of racing.
Lehr, an industry leader in safety programs and initiatives during his 30 years as track superintendent at Churchill Downs, will be honored with the Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing.
Mooney will accept the Walter Haight Award, named for the former Washington Post turf writer and columnist, for excellence in turf writing. Mooney is a two-time Eclipse Award winner, in 1985 and 2007.
HERE AND THERE
Undefeated Spinaway winner So Many Ways will not run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and will be turned out in Maryland to prepare for her 3-year-old season, owner Maggi Moss announced on Wednesday. . . .
Five-time graded-stakes winner The Factor was retired last weekend and will stand stud at Lane’s End Farm in Lexington, Ky.
The son of War Front suffered a left front ankle injury that would have kept him from running in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.