Hall of Famer Bill Mott is a turf trainer. Tom Amoss is a high-percentage, high-volume claiming trainer. Or so the stereotyping goes. Dumbed-down shorthand notwithstanding, it is true that neither Mott nor Amoss typically travels down the Kentucky Derby trail. Mott has gotten six Derby starters to the gate, to no great effect. Amoss has had one.
But push the history aside for the moment: Mott is front, Amoss center on Saturday at Fair Grounds, with the former starting Drosselmeyer, the latter Ron the Greek in the Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes.
Ron the Greek was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Risen Star, Drosselmeyer the 4-1 second choice, though Drosselmeyer could easily go favored in the 1 1/16-mile race. Drosselmeyer makes his stakes debut, but is 2 for 2 on dirt and turned heads with a nine-furlong entry-level allowance win Jan. 31 at Gulfstream Park.
Ron the Greek might be unbeaten in four starts had a dreadful trip in the Springboard Mile on Dec. 13 at Remington not led to a fourth-place finish. He won the Lecomte Stakes here last month by passing the nine other horses in the race during the last five furlongs.
Whatever passing does or doesn't get done this time will take place quite late Saturday afternoon: post time for the Risen Star is 4:43 Central. The Risen Star is the 10th of 13 races on a card that starts at 12:10 and is the cashing leg of a guaranteed $125,000 50-cent pick four. Preceding the Risen Star are four stakes, including the Grade 3 Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade 3 Mineshaft for older horses. The local forecast calls for a slight chance of showers.
Mott said early this week he would prefer Drosselmeyer not race for another week or two, but Drosselmeyer has looked like a serious horse in his last two starts, and Mott recognizes the need to accumulate graded stakes earnings to ensure Drosselmeyer a spot in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
"The thing is for us, we're optimistic and have big expectations, and he's got to get some graded earnings right now," Mott said.
Drosselmeyer, along with American Lion, Rule, and Super Saver, is one of four promising early-season 3-year-olds owned by WinStar Farm. Drosselmeyer might be the most surprising of them. Drosselmeyer lacked early speed at 2, and Mott started him off in two-turn Saratoga turf races. Drosselmeyer required four tries to win. When he did so, it was in an off-the-turf Churchill Downs one-turn mile last November - and Drosselmeyer looked good. Drosselmeyer, a son of Distorted Humor and Santa Anita Oaks winner Golden Ballet, got a perfect pressing trip in his first dirt win, but last month at Gulfstream, racing nine furlongs around two turns, he had to make multiple moves and rally between horses to win.
"He's been a pleasant surprise," Mott said. "He's keeps coming and coming."
Ron the Greek has never shown even the tactical speed of Drosselmeyer, and Amoss said to expect another late run Saturday.
"That's his style, and I think the greatest mistake a trainer can make is to change a horse's style," Amoss said.
Ron the Greek, by Full Mandate, is nowhere close to his actual third birthday yet but is advanced for his age.
"You wouldn't know he's a May foal by looking at him, and he's mentally mature," Amoss said. "Nothing seems to upset him."
Ron the Greek drew post 11 in a 12-horse field, but given his running style, the wide post should not get him beat. Hotep and Robby Albarado are stuck in post 12 and could have more trouble.
"It's unfortunate," trainer Mark Frostad said of the draw. "We'll just have to leave it up to the rider.
Hotep comes back jut 19 days after a sharp victory here and is one of two especially impressive Fair Grounds route-allowance winners in the Risen Star. The other is Stay Put, who has awaited this spot since rallying from last behind a slow pace Jan. 3 to win his second straight race.
"He hasn't had a straw in his path so far," trainer Steve Margolis said. "He's a happy guy."
Drosselmeyer was joined on a flight from Florida by Tempted to Tapit and Discreetly Mine, the former only a maiden winner, the latter Grade 1-placed at age 2. What the pair have in common is early speed, and both figure to be on or near a solid pace Saturday.
"He'll establish himself early," said Tempted to Tapit's trainer, Steve Klesaris. "He's quick enough to be where his rider wants him."