Trainer Profile - Bill Mott

 Some trainers start their careers with dreams of winning a garland of roses, or a gigantic trophy.     Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s first big prizes, though, were substantially smaller.     “When I was 15, I got my first horse to train, which my father purchased for $320,” Mott recalled. “I put the horse in training. We ran her at a small fair meet in South Dakota, and she dead-heated for the win the first time I ever ran her.”     “The purse was $500, and we had to split 60% down the middle. I also won a blanket and a cooler. Because it was a dead heat, we flipped a coin.”     Mott still has the blanket and cooler from that race, and over the past 50 years, he’s added plenty of other pieces of hardware to his ever-growing trophy case. His career is one built on simple values instilled in him by some of the top horsemen in the Midwest during the 1970s, a group that included Keith Asmussen, Bob Irwin, and Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Van Berg.     “The major lesson I learned is, just show up and work,” Mott said. “The Asmussens were a hard-working family, and of course you can see what they’ve produced. Van Berg was the same. You worked hard, and you were a part of everything that went on. If you were interested, you were going to learn something.”     After several years of honing his craft as an assistant, Mott went out on his own in 1978. When asked about obstacles he had to overcome as a new head trainer, he was quick to thank Van Berg and an assortment of owners that helped him get off on the right foot.     “Jack had given me a big opportunity, and I had owners that came to me,” Mott explained. “I didn’t go out and hustle any horses or try to recruit anyone. Everything just fell into place. I showed up for work and things kept happening. My phone was ringing, and people were wanting to send me horses.”     Less than 10 years later, a son of Nureyev found his way into Mott’s barn thanks to owner Allen Paulson, and he would help shine a light on his conditioner’s world-class talents. His name was Theatrical, and while he had won several stakes races in Europe, it wasn’t until he came to the United States that he achieved his greatest success.     Theatrical won seven of nine races in 1987, including that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Hollywood Park. In total, his campaign included six Grade 1 victories, and he was crowned as that year’s Champion Grass Horse.     “Theatrical was my first champion, my first Breeders’ Cup winner,” Mott said. “He let everyone know that I could train a good horse, that I could train a Grade 1 winner, that I could train a champion. Theatrical being owned by Allen Paulson is the reason I got Cigar.”     Six and a half years after Theatrical walked off the racetrack for the final time, Cigar was transferred to Mott’s care. He had started his career in California for trainer Alex Hassinger, but was sent east at the recommendation of Dr. Steve Allday following double knee surgery.     “I remember getting on him when we took him to Belmont,” Mott recalled. “One morning, we went to the training track. I galloped him, and I remember going back to the barn and just raving about this horse. The adrenaline had kicked in, and I was spouting off. I said, ‘this horse is like a machine.’     “I’d been on a lot of good horses, and I know what most good horses feel like. There’s a difference. You can sometimes feel that special horse underneath you. He was one of those.”     Cigar didn’t show that brilliance right away, but once he went to the dirt after several unsuccessful races on turf, his talent rose to the surface. He won 16 consecutive races from late-1994 to the summer of 1996, including the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and was enshrined in racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002.     Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey had the mount on Cigar for most of that win streak. Bailey and Mott had known each other long before either arrived in New York, and when they joined forces on one of America’s top circuits, a legendary trainer/jockey combination was born.     “I remember one day we were by the starting gate at Saratoga,” Mott said. “We were by the seven-eighths pole. I was walking back to the barn, and he stopped me and said, ‘I want to ride some horses for you.’”     A request to ride “some horses” turned into a partnership that guided several of the era’s top horses to wins in the sport’s biggest races. In addition to Cigar, the Mott/Bailey duo teamed up on top-notch Thoroughbreds such as Fraise, Escena, Yagli, and Royal Anthem, among others. In total, Mott and Bailey won 96 graded stakes races together before the Hall of Fame jockey retired in 2006.     In 2018, one of Mott’s biggest partnerships is with a fellow horseman. His son Riley has become one of his top assistants, and it’s evident that the elder Mott is incredibly proud of him.     “He’s very punctual, which is more punctual than I ever was,” Bill said with a laugh. “He’s there every day, he works hard, and he gets along with the staff very well. The biggest thing is he’s very sincere. That probably is the most important thing.”     The Mott family is currently readying a rising star for a run in one of the sport’s biggest races. The well-traveled Yoshida won the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic in May at Churchill Downs before shipping across the Atlantic for the Group 1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. He ran a strong fifth that day against some of Europe’s top milers, but two starts later, Yoshida would try a new surface.     “Any horse I have for WinStar, they like to try them on dirt,” Mott explained. “We knew how talented he was on the turf, but it’s always been in the cards to try him on dirt. It was a matter of waiting for the opportune time.     “When the Woodward came up, we didn’t really have anything scheduled for him. There was no particular turf race we had in mind coming up in the next month, and we just felt it was the right time to see him out there in the afternoon.”     Yoshida’s connections were right. He topped a field of 13 others in the Grade 1 Woodward beneath jockey Joel Rosario, and the plan now calls for an attempt at the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. A win there would be Mott’s third in the $6 million race. In addition to Cigar’s 1995 win, he saddled Drosselmeyer to a victory in the 2011 renewal (which was contested at Churchill Downs, the host site of the 2018 event).     Yoshida is the latest example of a thoroughbred coming to hand for Mott at an older age after being given time to develop. The conditioner cites an old-school approach to racing as a reason for this sort of progression, one that is being phased out in some parts of the game.     “I think that all the statistics that we have really affect the field size and the amount of times horses run,” he said. “Every trainer would love to be a 25% trainer, but that’s not always going to happen. If you’re waiting to find that perfect situation every time that’s going to allow you to be 25%, you’re going to be sitting in the barn a lot.     “I don’t think you have to win every time to give a horse a successful career. I think sometimes with a 2-year-old, you don’t necessarily have to win that first race to have a good horse. The really good horses are going to win whether you’ve got them totally cranked up or not, but sometimes I feel like it’s good just to get them going and see what you’ve got. Then you find the level and place and what they want to do.”     Mott added that there are situations where some talented trainers are not given much of a chance.     “We’ve got some owners that, if a guy’s not winning at 20%, they’ll say, ‘I want him to go find his happiness somewhere else,’” he said. “I have a little bit of the old school left in me. I probably run a little more often, but I’d like to do it without the pressure of feeling like I’ve got to win every time.     “People get upset if they get beat. They may want to switch jockeys or switch trainers. When I had the Paulson horses, he was never fearful of getting beat. Mr. Paulson was never afraid. He was happy when they ran, and if they got beat, well, let’s try again next time. He was never afraid of Cigar being beaten. He loved to see him run. If he would’ve been beaten, he didn’t think any less of him. There was no feeling that you were going to get fired if you got beat.”     40 years after striking out on his own, and 50 years after winning a blanket and cooler at a fair track, Mott is still carrying on with an enterprise that ranks highly in the national standings. As of this writing, his runners had earned more than $5.5 million in 2018, and in addition to Yoshida, his barn includes multiple Grade 1 winner Elate, as well as promising 2-year-olds Mucho (second in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga) and Unionizer (the winner of the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park).     Despite all of his successes, Mott is quick to defer credit to the horses he trains, as well as those who work in his barn.     “No matter what anybody says, and no matter how brilliant somebody would like to appear, it’s really all about the horses,” he said. “The horses are what make our careers. They make us look good, or they make us look less than good. If you’ve got the right stock, they can really make it for you.     “I’m proud of the job that we do, and I’m very proud of the people that I’ve put together.”

By Andrew Champagne

Some trainers start their careers with dreams of winning a garland of roses, or a gigantic trophy.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s first big prizes, though, were substantially smaller.

“When I was 15, I got my first horse to train, which my father purchased for $320,” Mott recalled. “I put the horse in training. We ran her at a small fair meet in South Dakota, and she dead-heated for the win the first time I ever ran her.”

“The purse was $500, and we had to split 60% down the middle. I also won a blanket and a cooler. Because it was a dead heat, we flipped a coin.”

Mott still has the blanket and cooler from that race, and over the past 50 years, he’s added plenty of other pieces of hardware to his ever-growing trophy case. His career is one built on simple values instilled in him by some of the top horsemen in the Midwest during the 1970s, a group that included Keith Asmussen, Bob Irwin, and Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Van Berg.

“The major lesson I learned is, just show up and work,” Mott said. “The Asmussens were a hard-working family, and of course you can see what they’ve produced. Van Berg was the same. You worked hard, and you were a part of everything that went on. If you were interested, you were going to learn something.”

 Riley Mott and Elate

Riley Mott and Elate

After several years of honing his craft as an assistant, Mott went out on his own in 1978. When asked about obstacles he had to overcome as a new head trainer, he was quick to thank Van Berg and an assortment of owners that helped him get off on the right foot.

“Jack had given me a big opportunity, and I had owners that came to me,” Mott explained. “I didn’t go out and hustle any horses or try to recruit anyone. Everything just fell into place. I showed up for work and things kept happening. My phone was ringing, and people were wanting to send me horses.”

Less than 10 years later, a son of Nureyev found his way into Mott’s barn thanks to owner Allen Paulson, and he would help shine a light on his conditioner’s world-class talents. His name was Theatrical, and while he had won several stakes races in Europe, it wasn’t until he came to the United States that he achieved his greatest success.

Theatrical won seven of nine races in 1987, including that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Hollywood Park. In total, his campaign included six Grade 1 victories, and he was crowned as that year’s Champion Grass Horse.

“Theatrical was my first champion, my first Breeders’ Cup winner,” Mott said. “He let everyone know that I could train a good horse, that I could train a Grade 1 winner, that I could train a champion. Theatrical being owned by Allen Paulson is the reason I got Cigar.”

Six and a half years after Theatrical walked off the racetrack for the final time, Cigar was transferred to Mott’s care. He had started his career in California for trainer Alex Hassinger, but was sent east at the recommendation of Dr. Steve Allday following double knee surgery.

“I remember getting on him when we took him to Belmont,” Mott recalled. “One morning, we went to the training track. I galloped him, and I remember going back to the barn and just raving about this horse. The adrenaline had kicked in, and I was spouting off. I said, ‘this horse is like a machine.’

“I’d been on a lot of good horses, and I know what most good horses feel like. There’s a difference. You can sometimes feel that special horse underneath you. He was one of those.”

TO READ MORE —

BUY THIS ISSUE IN PRINT OR DOWNLOAD -

Breeders’ Cup 2018, issue 50 (PRINT)

$6.95

Pre Breeders’ Cup 2018, issue 50 (DOWNLOAD)

$3.99

WHY NOT SUBSCRIBE?

DON'T MISS OUT AND SUBSCRIBE TO RECEIVE THE NEXT FOUR ISSUES!

Print & Online Subscription

$24.95

Unravelling ulceration - The causes, treatment and prevention for squamous vs. glandular gastric ulceration

EQUITHRIVE Trainer of the Quarter - Uriah St. Lewis

0