The Inside Rail

Bill Mott doesn’t remember saying it.

It was March 1998, I was just getting started as a writer, I mean just getting started, when I asked Mott if he thought Favorite Trick could get a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby in two months time. Bred to be a sprinter, built like a sprinter, Favorite Trick had an impossible task on his plate. Mott knew it. He paused at my question, stared blankly, to the point where I wasn’t sure he heard me, then he spoke.

“Horses give you the information and you’re expected to use it.”

It’s the best quote I’ve ever heard about training horses.

I told Mott that a few years ago, he didn’t remember saying it, which is fine because I’ve repeated it so many times, I’ve made it my own.

The Blood-Horse asked me if I could go to Payson Park and interview Mott for a feature on Favorite Trick and the Triple Crown. I was excited, strangely, not intimidated.

That didn’t last long.

The meeting was set for the afternoon. I got there early, late morning, after training hours, but I learned right then and there, that Mott doesn’t keep training hours. I barged into his tack room office, introducing myself like it was the first night of rush week. Mott looked up from his training chart, didn’t say a word, just stared at me. I bumbled out a few words, he kept staring. I guess he would have stared at me for however long I stood there, which wasn’t long, as I walked the plank out of his office. And, yes, the door did hit me in the ass.

I sat under a tree and waited like a scolded child. A while later, Mott walked out and asked what I wanted.

“Just to see some horses,” I said.

That broke the ice.   

Mott and I meandered up and down the shed rows of his two barns, he showed me horses who I had only read about – Escena, Ajina, Yagli, Elusive Quality, Favorite Trick…Mott walked up to every stall, tepidly, to see what each horse was doing naturally, he didn’t startle any of them, he was like a kid sneaking into the house after curfew. Glok, who had just won an allowance on the Gulfstream turf, had ripped his bandage off, Mott ducked under the webbing, picked up the strewn bandage and then took off the other one, just like Dad had always told me, ‘bandage both legs or no legs.’ Mott ducked back under the webbing, “Guess, he doesn’t like them.” Mott told me about every horse, just observations, like he was going through an old stamp collection or studying rings on a tree.

On a roll, I asked the question, “Do you really think Favorite Trick can get a mile and a quarter?”

That’s when Mott paused, looked down, and offered the most insightful words I’d ever heard about horses.

“Horses give you the information and you’re expected to use it.”

Mott has used the information all the way, from his $320 mare My Assets at the bush tracks in South Dakota, to a three-year stint with Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg to a Hall of Fame career that has included the greats from Cigar to Royal Delta.

Saturday, Mott won his third Alabama. Elate rounded into form just at the right time to take the Grade 1 stakes.

Talk about a horse giving you information.

The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro broke her maiden by 12 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct in November. Jockey Jose Ortiz said, “I’ve hit the jackpot.” Mott’s son/assistant Riley said, “We were all getting Oaks fever.”

Bill Mott doesn’t catch fevers.

After a brief freshening at Payson in the winter, Elate finished second in the Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs, third in the Honeybee at Oaklawn. Mott was thinking about Aug. 19.

“She just wasn’t there, and I knew it,” Mott said. “There was nothing I was going to do to make her come around any quicker.”

And that’s the key, Mott didn’t do anything more, he allowed Elate to give him the information. She pulled up in the Ashland when Ortiz thought she took a bad step, but was fine afterward. She finished second in an allowance race at Churchill Downs May 5 (Oaks Day, but a long way from the Oaks), then snapped a four-race losing streak in the Light Hearted at Delaware Park in June and just missed winning the Coaching Club American Oaks opening weekend.

“You don’t want to get them beat up if they’re not ready for it, some people believe that they run as fast as they can no matter who they’re with (in races), I think confidence helps them, I believe confidence helps them,” Mott said. “They know when they’re winning and they build off of that, since the Delaware race, she’s improved. She just started moving forward, nothing we did different. There’s no magic to it, it’s just a matter of allowing them to get there on their own.”

And using the information.

• Click here to read the entire Saratoga Special.