Bill Mott trying to win Belmont without mayhem

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NEW YORK — Standing outside his barn at Belmont Park and wearing a New York Yankees cap, trainer Bill Mott was finishing a conversation about Roger Maris.

Mott had thought the man who broke Babe Ruth’s record was from his home state, South Dakota. Actually it was North Dakota, although the Hall of Fame trainer wasn’t about to totally lose the debate. He insisted Maris bought his beer in South Dakota.

After some laughs, the talk shifted to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the final leg of what has been a chaotic Triple Crown, not only for thoroughbred racing but for the 65-year-old Mott.

What will be remembered is that Maximum Security finished first in the Kentucky Derby and was disqualified for interfering with eventual Preakness winner War of Will. That elevated Country House to first place and gave Mott his first Kentucky Derby win.

It also put Mott in a category with Maris – an asterisk next to their names.

Maris got it for hitting a then-record 61 homers in 162 games in 1961. It broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers in 154 games in 1927.

Mott will be remembered as the first trainer to win the Kentucky Derby after the first horse across the finish line was disqualified.

A wry smile crosses Mott’s face when he is reminded of the link to Maris.

“My statistics probably haven’t exceeded his,” Mott said Thursday, acknowledging the asterisk reference.

He acknowledged that being in the Derby winner’s circle Derby was awkward. He felt a few of the people shaking his hand were trying to get away as quickly as possible. It was almost like apologizing for winning, or being named the winner.

“I certainly don’t want the owners or anybody else to think I’m not pleased about winning,” Mott said, adding Country House ran his heart out in the Kentucky Derby.

Mark Casse, who trains War of Will and also will be looking for his second win in this Triple Crown, said he felt bad for Mott the day after the Derby.

“I think it has been hard on Bill,” Casse said. “Bill is such a great guy. You talk about class, you’ll find his name right next to it. It’s tough no one wants to win that way. Nobody wants to win that way.”

What would make his Triple Crown season perfect is having the 1+-mile race go off without a hitch.

The disqualification marred the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness was highlighted by War of Will’s performance and another horse running around the Maryland track after unseating his rider.

Ten colts have been entered for the Belmont, but it seems to be a two-horse race.

Tacitus, who will be racing for the first time since being placed third in the Derby, is the 9-5 favorite. War of Will is the 2-1 second choice.

The other eight horses are rated at 8-1 or higher.

Trainer Mark Hennig, who handles 12-1 Bourbon War, said Tacitus and War of Will are the most accomplished colts in the field.

“I don’t think any of them has been dominant, like some of those horses who come here to the Belmont odds-wise,” Henning said, referring to recent Triple Crown winners Justify (2018) and American Pharoah (2015).

Joevia drew the No. 1 post position. Jose Lezcano is the jockey on the 30-1 choice.

The rest of the field in post-position order with horse, jockey and odds:

Everfast, Luis Saez, 12-1; Master Fencer, Julien Leparoux, 8-1; Tax, Irad Ortiz, 15-1; Bourbon War, Mike Smith, 12-1; Spinoff, Javier Castellano, 15-1; Sir Winston, Joel Rosario, 12-1; Intrepid Heart, John Velazquez, 10-1; War of Will, Tyler Gaffalione, 2-1; and Tacitus, Jose Ortiz, 9-5.

NOTES: Mott said Country House is at Churchill Downs and has been galloping. He hopes to have him ready to run at Saratoga this summer.

Higher Power wins $1M Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. — With his top two horses elsewhere, John Sadler took a chance with a couple others in his barn.

Higher Power paid off.

The 4-year-old colt took command turning into the stretch and won the $1 million Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Saturday, making Sadler the first trainer to win the Grade 1 race in consecutive years with different horses.

“The second time is just as sweet,” Sadler said.

In 2018, Accelerate ended Sadler’s 0-for-11 skid with a record 12 1/2-length victory in the West’s biggest race of the summer. Owner-brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis joined Sadler with consecutive victories.

“Winning it back to back is a tribute to John Sadler,” Kosta Hronis said.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Higher Power ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.43 at the seaside track north of San Diego. Sent off at 9-1 odds, the colt paid $21.20, $9.40 and $7.40.

“When we entered the backside he really grabbed the bit and I was travelling really well,” Prat said. “Once the leader fell apart he really jumped into the bridle and did everything on his own, so I thought that was the right move.”

Draft Pick returned $17.40 and $10 at 13-1 odds. Mongolian Groom was another neck back in third and paid $7.20 to show at 18-1 odds.

Higher Power earned an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall.

Seeking the Soul, the 2-1 favorite, finished seventh.

“He didn’t try at all,” jockey John Velazquez said. “No effort. I don’t get it.”

Sadler’s top two handicap horses, Gift Box and Catalina Cruiser, weren’t in the picture. Gift Box won’t run again until this fall and Catalina Cruiser is tabbed to run next in a sprint race.

Not seeing a dominant horse in the race, Sadler entered Higher Power. The colt responded with the first stakes win of his career.

“It developed pretty much the way we thought,” he said. “We thought there would be some speed on the inside and the plan was to stalk. It came out the way we thought it would.”

Sadler’s other entry, Campaign, finished fifth.

The victory, worth $600,000, increased Higher Power’s career earnings to $800,648, with five wins in 13 starts.

Sadler didn’t get Higher Power in his barn until spring. The colt was with another trainer for the first six starts of his career and then transferred to a different trainer.

In other stakes:

– Acclimate won the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a length under Florent Geroux. The 5-year-old brown gelding earned an automatic berth in the BC Turf.

Trained by Phil D’Amato, Acclimate ran 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.71 and paid $16.60 to win at 7-1 odds.

– Cambier Parc shipped in from New York and won the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths for trainer Chad Brown.

Ridden by Velazquez, the 3-year-old filly ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:46.75. She paid $4.40 as the 6-5 favorite.

– Fighting Mad cruised to an eight-length victory in the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes.

Ridden by Joe Talamo, the 3-year-old filly ran one mile in 1:38.61. Fighting Mad paid $6.60 as the 2-1 favorite trained by Bob Baffert. She’s owned by Gary and Mary West, owners of Maximum Security, disqualified after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.

– Mr Vargas won the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths.

The 5-year-old gelding ran five furlongs on turf in 56.15 seconds under Talamo. Mr Vargas paid $8.40 to win for trainer Brian Koriner.

Horologist upsets Jaywalk in Monmouth Oaks

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Horologist upset Jaywalk, last year’s juvenile filly champion, in the $162,500 Monmouth Oaks on Saturday.

As expected, 1-5 favorite Jaywalk set the pace until Horologist made a strong run along the rail on the final turn. She slipped by to win by three quarters of a length in the stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park.

Horologist, bred in New Jersey, won for the fifth time in 10 starts for trainer John Mazza. Mazza said he was confident his horse would run a “bang-up race,” but he didn’t know it would be enough to beat a “champion like Jaywalk.”

Angel Suarez was aboard for the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44.

Jaywalk was coming off a nine-length win in the Delaware Oaks last month. She closed out last season by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to clinch the Eclipse Award.

Horologist – whose name refers to a maker or dealer of timepieces – paid 12.80, $3.40 and $2.10 as the 5-1 second choice in the five-horse field.

Jaywalk returned $2.10 and $2.10. Sweet Sami D paid $2.10 to show, and was followed by Lady Banba and Stay Smart.