During a career that began in 1973, trainer Bill Mott has won a staggering 4,893 races, the seventh-highest total in the history of North American racing. Those victories include a Belmont Stakes, ten Breeders’ Cup events, and 448 other graded stakes races. It’s obvious why Mott is in the Hall of Fame.
Yet for all his success, Mott has never won the Kentucky Derby. His program just isn’t geared toward targeting the first Saturday in May, and he’s only sent out seven starters in the Run for the Roses, most recently finishing twelfth with Hold Me Back in 2009.
But 2019 could be different. In a departure from previous years, Mott’s stable is seemingly loaded with promising Derby contenders, and with a little bit of racing luck, one or two could arrive at Churchill Downs with a legitimate chance to win the roses.
In alphabetical order, Mott’s Derby hopefuls include….
This son of Jimmy Creed has been running on turf as of late, most notably winning the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but he showed some potential on dirt as a two-year-old, breaking his maiden at Saratoga before finishing seventh in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I). He’d be a longshot to make noise on the Derby trail, but he’s worth watching out for if he switches back to dirt.
Country House showed promise in New York last year, but stepped up his game significantly to win an 8.5-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park on January 17. He had no business rallying from behind a slow pace to win going away by 3 ½ lengths, especially after he broke inward at the start and spotted the field maybe a half-dozen lengths, but by running the final five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately :29.96 seconds (an excellent time), he got the job done in eye-catching fashion. The future looks bright for this son of 2010 Preakness Stakes winner Lookin at Lucky.
Mott’s most exciting Derby contender is certainly Hidden Scroll, who looked like a star in the making while winning his debut on January 26 at Gulfstream Park—so much so that I ranked him sixth in my latest Kentucky Derby Top 10. With jockey Joel Rosario in the saddle, Hidden Scroll carved out fast fractions of :22.53, :44.75, and 1:09.43 over a sloppy, sealed track before pulling away to win the one-mile event by 14 lengths without ever being asked for his best run. His final time of 1:34.82 translated to a massive 104 Beyer, the highest earned by any member of this foal crop thus far, and as a son of Hard Spun out of an Empire Maker mare, the Derby distance shouldn’t be an issue for Hidden Scroll. Can he replicate Apollo and Justify and become the third horse to win the Derby without racing as a two-year-old?
Mucho was among the first of Mott’s two-year-olds to strike last year, winning a maiden race at Saratoga by nearly ten lengths before battling to a runner-up finish behind fellow Kentucky Derby contender Mind Control in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). Unfortunately, Mucho was sidelined following the Hopeful, but he resumed serious training in January and has posted five workouts at Payson Park in preparation for his return. As a stoutly-bred son of Blame out of a Pulpit mare, longer distances shouldn’t be an issue for Mucho—the only question is whether he’ll have enough time to gear up for the Derby.
A fourth-place finish in a Belmont maiden race marked a rather inauspicious start for Tacitus, but he was facing a quality field that day and came right back to win a one-mile maiden race at Aqueduct by a neck, with recent maiden winner Motagally finishing more than three lengths behind in third place. As a son of three-time leading sire Tapit out of the champion mare Close Hatches, Tacitus is bred top and bottom to be a high-class runner and has been training steadily at Payson Park in preparation for his 2019 debut.
Bred in Iowa, this son of Bellamy Road looks more like a sprinter than a router, but he did compete in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (finishing eighth after tracking the pace) and he recently returned to action with a late-running third-place finish in the Swale Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream, an effort that he could build on down the road.