No trainer in the history of horse racing has won more races at Churchill Downs than Bill Mott. Over a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Mott has won 640 races under the Twin Spires, including two of his six Breeders' Cup victories (Escena 1998 Distaff and Unrivaled Belle 2010 Ladies Classic).
Though Mott's stable is considerably smaller than it was when he was on top of the sport in the 80s and 90s, he will be coming to Churchill Downs with one of the strongest hands he has held in some time. The 58-year-old trainer is pointing five horses to the World Championships on Nov. 4-5, and though none of them will likely be favored, four of them have good chances at pulling off victories.
"I think we're in with some pretty good chances this year," Mott said. "Everyone that we hope to run has some kind of chance. We've had some success here before, so we'll see how it goes."
Mott's top chances may lie with Birdrun in the Marathon and Royal Delta in the Ladies Classic, but he also will have live semi-longshots in the Classic with To Honor and Serve and Courageous Cat in the Mile. Drosselmeyer, being pointed to the Classic, will be an outsider.
All five of Mott's Breeders' Cup contenders have arrived at Churchill and all worked over the track last weekend. Assuming Havre de Grace continues to point toward the Classic, Mott's top chance from an odds perspective lies with Royal Delta, who will probably be the second choice on the morning-line behind Plum Pretty. The 3-year-old daughter of Empire Maker won the Black-Eyed Susan and Alabama this year, and enters off a distant second to Havre de Grace in the Beldame.
"It looks like three of the top horses in there will be 3-year-olds, so I think we belong," Mott said. "We've liked her all along and she's gotten us here. She's doing very well right now and we won this race twice before here."
Courageous Cat may have been the most pleasant surprise of the year for Mott. Second to Goldikova in the 2009 Mile at Santa Anita, the 5-year-old son of Storm Cat is the best he's been since that race after battling injury problems over the last two years. He has won a pair of graded stakes this year including the grade I Shoemaker Mile and fell a neck short in the Woodbine Mile last out. If anyone is going to deny Goldikova her fourth straight BC Mile win, it could be him.
"His only blemish in three races was by a neck," Mott said. "And maybe he saw the front a little too soon on Woodbine's long stretch. He's seems to be doing as well as he was (in 2009)."
To Honor and Serve has also overcome injury problems and may finally be back to where Mott wants him. A leading Kentucky Derby contender coming into the season, he was a distant and disappointing third in Florida's two major preps and came out of the Florida Derby with a strained suspensory ligament. After 4 1/2 months on the sideline and a poor comeback effort, the son of Benardini is back where Mott had him as a juvenile when he won a pair of grade II races in New York. His latest win in the Pa. Derby was very impressive.
"This time last year we thought we had a horse with a real chance at the Triple Crown races. We thought the stars were lined up," Mott said. "We hit a bump in the road in April and he wasn't able to make it, but after the time off he's come back very well. His last two races were dynamite.
"He's peaking at the right time, but he still has to answer the distance and class questions. He has to step up and beat older horses, but we feel like he is coming into the race in the right direction for sure."
Drosselmeyer, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, will be a longshot in the Classic but Mott said the race has the potential to set up in his favor. He is coming off a strong runner-up effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"WinStar wanted to lean in this direction (instead of the Marathon) based off his last race," Mott said. "He certainly earned a chance off of that and with him we know the distance is not an issue. With the fast pace scenario that could be shaping up, you never know. Everybody that worked here last weekend went well, but he went the quickest of all of them."
Birdun is expected to be one of the favorites in the Marathon. He has two stakes wins this year and even though he ran sixth in the JCGC last out, Mott likes his chances.
"We didn't think we were holding a loaded gun going into (the JCGC), but he needed a race. He's doing well and with the race now a mile and six furlongs for the first time it's pretty wide open. We'll give the Bird a shot.