On turf, a neat 'Trick' for Mott Move to grass returns Horse of Year to form, with Cup Mile next up

November 06, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Bill Mott welcomed Favorite Trick into his barn at the beginning of the year, well-wishers offered congratulations.

4 "Sure you don't mean condolences?" Mott replied.

He realized that taking over the training of a horse who'd won all eight races -- a horse who'd be named 1997 Horse of the Year -- meant one thing: Horses eventually get beat, and when that happened to Favorite Trick, Mott would be remembered as the trainer of record.

Sure enough, Favorite Trick got beat in his second start for Mott, finishing third in the Arkansas Derby. Then, in the Kentucky Derby, Favorite Trick ran like anything but a Horse of the Year. After gaining favorable position on the rail, he tired in the stretch and faded to eighth, 12 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Real Quiet.

The grumbles began: Impeach the Horse of the Year.

"I heard all that," Mott said yesterday outside his barn at Churchill Downs. "He was taking a bad rap for what he accomplished last year and what he didn't accomplish this year."

Even before the Kentucky Derby, Mott knew a horse with such a sprinter's pedigree faced a formidable task at the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

"It was a test we weren't overly confident about going in," Mott said. "But we felt he deserved the chance to go ahead and try. If he hadn't tried it, we probably would have always wondered if he could have done it."

What's happened since shows why Mott, who trained Cigar to 16 straight victories, is one of racing's most respected trainers. Whereas he transformed Cigar into a superstar with the switch ** from grass to dirt, he resurrected Favorite Trick with the switch from dirt to grass.

Tomorrow, when the best turf milers in the world line up in the starting gate for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Mile, Favorite Trick will be one of the favorites. Despite his status at 5-1 in the morning line and the presence of Desert Prince, Europe's top miler, Favorite Trick might even be favored.

That's a staggering accomplishment for a horse who has trained on the turf for merely four months. Mott did not make the switch out of desperation. Since the Derby, he had wisely picked the spots for Favorite Trick, who rewarded him with two stakes victories.

But he wanted a Breeders' Cup race for Favorite Trick. The horse had tried the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles in the Derby and failed, and Mott didn't want to turn him into a sprinter. He improvised.

"We combined the turf with the mile, which might be his optimum distance," Mott said. "And we came up with what hopefully is his ultimate strength."

When Favorite Trick first tested turf in July, he relished it. He ran faster at the end of his workout than he ever had on dirt, Mott said.

"He seemed to need a little change," the trainer said. "Maybe grass was what he was looking for. The turf offered him a little better grip. He was able to move over it a little better."

VTC In his first race on grass, the 3-year-old Favorite Trick devoured top older horses Oct. 17 in the Grade II Keeneland Breeders' Cup Mile Stakes. Pat Day, who has ridden Favorite Trick in all his races, was impressed.

"The Favorite Trick of last year showed up," Day said. "He just looked and acted like his old self, and consequently he ran like it. By the third or fourth jump, he pricked his ears and just kind of galloped around there and had a wonderful time."

The performance was Favorite Trick's best since closing out his 8-for-8 juvenile season with a smashing victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park. If he wins the Mile, he will become the first horse in 15 renewals of the Breeders' Cup to win two different races.

He seems poised for a top effort. He breezed a half mile Tuesday on the Churchill Downs turf in 48 2/5 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than the next quickest time at the distance.

Despite the critics, Favorite Trick has persevered. And so has his trainer.

"Yes," Mott said, smiling, "we've both made it through in good order."

Breeders' Cup

What: Seven races, worth at least $13 million

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

When: Tomorrow

# TV: Ch. 11, 1 p.m.

Races, probable favorites

$1M Juvenile: 1: 25 p.m., The Groom Is Red, three-horse entry of Cat Thief, Mountain Range and Tactical Cat

$1M Juvenile Fillies: 2 p.m., Silverbulletday, Excellent Meeting

$1.1M Sprint: 2: 35 p.m., Affirmed Success, Wild Rush

$1M Mile: 3: 10 p.m., Desert Prince

$2M Distaff: 3: 34 p.m., Banshee Breeze

$2M Turf: 4: 25 p.m., Royal Anthem, Military (entry)

$5.12M Classic: 5: 05 p.m., Skip Away, Silver Charm

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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