ELMONT, N.Y. - Growing up in South Dakota, Bill Mott used to follow his father on his veterinarian rounds. When he was 15, he bought his first racehorse for $320. My Assets became his first winner.
In 1998, Mott, then 45, became the youngest trainer inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. He trained two-time Horse of the Year Cigar through his 16-race winning streak. He won consecutive Eclipse Awards as the nation's leading trainer.
Mott had never won a Triple Crown race. Until Saturday.
Drosselmeyer was considered the best of a substantial group of talented 3-year-olds owned by WinStar Farm in the run up to the Kentucky Derby. But the colt did not have enough graded stakes earnings to get into the Derby.
So Super Saver won the Derby for WinStar. And Mott waited with Drosselmeyer, running him in the May 8 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. A month later, the great trainer had the underachieving colt ready to achieve.
It seemed to take forever (2:31.57 for the mile-and-a-half), but history will mark Drosselmeyer as the winner of the 142nd Belmont Stakes. And Mott has his Triple Crown win.
"I think it was just a matter of time with some of the good horses that I do get the opportunity to train that it was going to happen," Mott said.
It was. The trainer has been too good for too long. Finally, opportunity met moment.
Drosselmeyer is not going to the Hall of Fame. The colt was not exactly flying at the finish. He was just running less slowly than the others.
The time equated to a Beyer speed figure of 94, a number more associated with an entry-level allowance race than a Grade I stake with a $1 million purse.
The result simply confirmed what has been clear most of the spring: This is a less-than-mediocre group of 3-year-olds.
Dwyer winner Fly Down came on to be second. Pace-setting First Dude, after setting very slow fractions, faded in the stretch to finish third. Heavily favored Ice Box never fired and finished ninth. The Derby runner-up was moved to eighth after Uptowncharlybrown was disqualified from fifth and placed last. An 8-pound lead pad fell out of the colt's saddle on the backstretch so he did not carry the proper weight for the entire race.
"Fly Down ran great," trainer Nick Zito said. "Obviously I'm disappointed about Ice Box. He didn't deal with the heat well today."
Ice Box' rider Jose Lezcano summed it up nicely.
"When I asked him to run, he showed no interest," the jockey said.
Sarah Palin was at the track to support First Dude, named for her husband, Todd. The colt ran a bit like Palin's vice presidential campaign: Early speed. Faded late.
Horse racing at the top levels is unforgiving. Who you are has little to do with what happens. It took the great Bobby Frankel forever to win a Triple Crown race. Empire Maker finally won the 2003 Belmont Stakes for Frankel. Todd Pletcher set a record for Derby futility until Super Saver won America's race.
"Some things are just meant to be and I think this is one of them," Mott said.
After Drosselmeyer's second-place finish in the Dwyer, the decision was made to sack one Hall of Fame rider (Kent Desormeaux) for another (Mike Smith).
So Smith reunited with Mott, a deadly combination in New York for years. Smith completed his own Triple Crown after wins in the Derby with Giacomo (2005) and Preakness with Prairie Bayou (1993).
"I'm blessed to win just about everything there is here except that race," said Smith, the regular rider for the unbeaten Zenyatta. "When I got the phone call and Bill asked if I'd be interested in riding him, the first thing I thought, 'I'm going to win the Belmont.' I felt that from that phone call on to this morning.
"I got up and ran 4 miles this morning. I felt so good. I took the edge off a little bit. It means everything in my career. I feel complete."
Drosselmeyer is the kind of horse that tries the patience of even the most experienced trainers. You know there is talent, but the results are not there. Mott is so good because he never loses his patience.
"The horse didn't frustrate me at all," Mott said. "There is a thing called racing luck and we had our luck today."
With that, the 2010 Triple Crown season is over. A week before the Derby, there was hope of a horse winning the elusive Triple Crown. Then, the brilliant Eskendereya was injured, withdrawn from the Derby and subsequently retired. By the end, the Derby and Preakness winners were on the sidelines, awaiting the big races of late summer and fall. And the Belmont was won by a 13-1 shot that had never won a stakes race.
The best horses in America are 6-year-old Zenyatta and 4-year-old Quality Road. Defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, not back to her 2009 form yet, runs for the third time in 2010 on Saturday. Down the road, the top 3-year-olds will get a shot at their elders.
Judging by what we saw over the last 5 weeks, don't expect many of them to be winning many of those races.