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The Daily Double Bill Mott and Favorite Trick were the winning ticket in the Swale

March 23, 1998
March 23, 1998

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March 23, 1998

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The Daily Double Bill Mott and Favorite Trick were the winning ticket in the Swale

Bill Mott is not given to shows of emotion. He plays his life and
his success as a trainer of thoroughbreds in the unwavering key
of low. Here's a man who steered the mighty Cigar through two
straight seasons as the nation's Horse of the Year--through a
streak in which Cigar won 16 consecutive races, tying a mark set
in 1950 by Citation--with unyielding reserve. Here's a man who
has won so many major stakes races with so many kinds of horses
that he's regarded as perhaps the finest horseman in the land,
although he'd be the last guy to celebrate himself.

This is an article from the March 23, 1998 issue

Now here was Mott last Saturday afternoon, only moments after
winning just another $100,000 race, the Swale at Gulfstream
Park, bolting down to the winner's circle and looking very much
like a rookie who had just made his first big score. His wife,
Tina, kissed him as he headed down the grandstand staircase. He
positively floated onto the track, a smile wreathing his face, a
touch of laughter in his voice. As the source of this rare
display of Mottian ebullience, a dapper, toylike little bay with
a snip of white on his nose, swept past him and into the circle,
Mott loosed a sigh of relief heard round the racing world.
"Well," he said, "I got a little of the monkey off my back today."

Actually, it was more like a lot of the gorilla. Showing the
poise of an old pro, Mott's 3-year-old colt, Favorite Trick, had
just patiently tracked the early speed in the seven-furlong
Swale, swung as adroitly as a polo pony between horses in the
upper stretch, bounded to the lead 220 yards from the wire and
ran off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Favorite Trick's first victory
of the year was his ninth in as many lifetime starts, but more
than an unbeaten record was at stake in the Swale. Not only was
Favorite Trick last year's undisputed 2-year-old champion, but
also--after a season in which no older horse emerged as
America's top thoroughbred--the Trick was voted the biggest of
Eclipse titles, Horse of the Year. He thus joined Secretariat
(1972) as the only 2-year-olds ever acclaimed as U.S. champion.

A relatively unknown horseman named Patrick Byrne handled
Favorite Trick in 1997, but in December he abandoned his public
stable, the Trick included, when he signed a lucrative five-year
contract to train exclusively for Canadian industrialist Frank
Stronach. Many observers expected that majority owner Joseph
LaCombe would turn his colt over to one of the three most
successful Kentucky Derby trainers of recent years--D. Wayne
Lukas (Thunder Gulch and Grindstone), Bob Baffert (Silver Charm)
or Nick Zito (Strike the Gold and Go for Gin). Instead, LaCombe
sought out the blue-jeaned Mott, whose only Kentucky Derby
starter, Taylor's Special, finished 13th in 1984.

It was a stunning move that bred controversy in February when,
during a dispute pursued in the press between LaCombe and Byrne
over the wisdom of the 48-day layoff that Byrne had given the
Trick following his victory in the Nov. 8 Breeders' Cup
Juvenile, Byrne also sniped at the choice of Mott, questioning
why LaCombe had not given the colt to Lukas, Baffert or Zito.
"Joe goes to a guy who historically is known for not getting
horses to the Derby," Byrne said. "He [Mott] breaks out in hives
when you mention the d word." The criticism stung Mott. "I was
disappointed," he says. "I thought it was unnecessary."

And unfair. The road to the Triple Crown is a notorious meat
grinder for young 3-year-olds, and it's strewn with the bones of
horses who could not endure its rigors. Scores of talented
horses have either suffered severe injuries during the Derby
prep races, broken down while attempting to run the gantlet of
the three spring classics or never realized anything near their
youthful potential. Exposing young horses to such bone-jarring
pressure runs counter to Mott's instincts as a horseman. He
knows it takes a special kind of horse to survive the run, much
less flourish in it, and he says he has simply never had a horse
good enough to do that. He has made his considerable name with
older, more mature horses, and his watchwords have always been
patience and caution. Don't squeeze the lemon until it's ripe
and yellow--indeed, ready to fall from the tree.

Most trainers would have taken Favorite Trick and squeezed him
right to Derby Day. When LaCombe interviewed Mott, the trainer
also interviewed the owner. "If he'd told me this horse had to
be in the Derby," Mott says, "I think I'd have told him he
didn't have the right man for the job." At one point Mott asked
LaCombe, "How important is it to get this horse to go to the
Derby?" LaCombe replied, "Naturally I would like to go--if the
horse is ready." No Derby guaranteed. "Good enough for me," Mott
said.

Mott trained the Trick not in the hustle-bustle world of
Gulfstream Park but rather in the quiet precincts of Payson
Park, almost 100 miles north of the track. Mott first sent the
Trick on long, slow gallops and short works, then on to longer
gallops and harder works. He was not sure what kind of colt he
had the day before the Swale. "Since I didn't have him last
year, I have nothing now to compare him to," he said. "But he
seems to be doing fine."

The Trick could hardly have been better. Four hours after the
Swale, the Lukas-trained Cape Town won the Florida Derby at
Gulfstream when Lil's Lad, who won the race by a nose, was
disqualified for drifting out and bumping Cape Town as the
horses neared the finish line. Afterward, noting how Mott had
brought the Trick to the Swale off solitary workouts at Payson,
Lukas, Mott's antithesis as a trainer, said generously, "If I
had to vote for trainer of the year now, I'd vote for Bill Mott."

What Favorite Trick does in his next start--the 1 1/8-mile Blue
Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11, his final Derby prep--may
be determined more by the genes in the horse than by the man in
the jeans. The colt's breeding suggests he may be at the end of
his tether going nine furlongs, but horses have made liars of
pedigrees before, and two things seem certain now: The Horse of
the Year is fresh and fit, and he's in the hands of a master.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES If Favorite Trick's owner had insisted his horse run in the Derby, "I think I'd have told him he didn't have the right man," Mott says. [Favorite Trick competing in race]