Bill Mott is in position to duplicate the ultimate daily double. The Hall of Fame trainer swept the $2 million US Ladies' Classic and $5 million Classic at last year's Breeders' Cup. He could do it again this weekend, with Royal Delta defending her Ladies' title and three of his horses running in the big race.
The Breeders' Cup has been dominated by females in recent years, led by Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Havre de Grace, whose body of work garnered Horse of the Year honours for each of them.
It could happen again starting Friday, when Royal Delta heads one of the deepest fields ever in the Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita. She's the 9-5 favourite for the 1 1/8-mile race. She could help Mott make history, too, as the first trainer to win the race three straight years and fifth time overall.
But two undefeated fillies are in her way.
Awesome Feather is 10-0, while My Miss Aurelia is 6-0. Both won the BC Juvenile Fillies as 2-year-olds.
Mott comes back strong on Saturday with Flat Out, Ron the Greek and To Honor and Serve in the Classic. The 9-5 early favourite for the 1 1/4-mile race is Game On Dude, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and co-owned by Joe Torre, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
"It's pretty unusual to have three horses of that quality in that type of race," Mott said. "If you really asked me who I would pick, one over the other, I couldn't do it. That's how well they're doing."
Game On Dude led most of the way in last year's Classic at Churchill Downs before Drosselmeyer overhauled him in the closing strides to win for Mott, who could become the second trainer since Jay Robbins in 2000-2001 to repeat in North America's richest race.
John Shirreffs completed the BC double in 2009 with Life is Sweet in the Ladies' Classic and Zenyatta in the Classic.
"I'm not trying to do it just because we did it last year," Mott said about his attempted double. "I feel no pressure to do that. I just want to do it because we're in there. I've got three good horses in the Classic and I think any one of them could win the race on their big day."
Mott had bid Royal Delta farewell a week after her victory at Churchill Downs last November. Her breeder-owner Prince Saud bin Khaled had died earlier in the year and his racing stable was sold to settle his estate. Royal Delta was sold to Benjiman Leon for $8.5 million.
"I had no expectations of getting her back," Mott said. "It was a sad day when I had to walk her out of my barn down to that van and send her to Keeneland. It was a little bit like I was walking to my best friend's funeral."
Mott attended the Keeneland sale and congratulated Leon after his purchase. The new owner told Mott to call him in a week or two, and that's when he found Royal Delta was coming back to his barn.
"It was great," the trainer said.
Of Mott's three Classic horses, both Flat Out and Ron the Greek came to him from other stables, while To Honor and Serve has been with him from the start.
Flat Out finished fifth, beaten three lengths, in last year's Classic for trainer Scooter Dickey. His owner wanted the horse in New York, where Mott is based, and he got him. Flat Out has tender feet, making him a challenge to train.
"He's been a willing student and done everything we've asked of him," Mott said, noting the horse won the Jockey Club Gold Cup the last two years.
Ron the Greek was transferred to Mott in mid-2011 and has blossomed into a four-time stakes winner. To Honor and Serve has eight wins in 16 career starts.