“Best of Both Worlds”: Mott at Home at Saratoga

Bill Mott watches Cody's Wish graze Wednesday morning at Saratoga
Sarah Andrew


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When three veteran turf writers approached him at his Saratoga barn last week, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott impishly decided to reverse roles. Before the journalists were able to offer more than a hello, Mott started asking pretty much the same questions he knew were coming his way.

For several seconds, the interviewee was the light-hearted interviewer.

Mott knows the drill. He has been training horses since he was a teenager in Mobridge, South Dakota, was inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame at the age of 45–the youngest flat trainer in history–in 1998 and in the 25 years since has further burnished his reputation as one of the Thoroughbred racing's all-time greats. Equibase stats show him ranked fourth in career purse earnings with $330,933,373 and eighth in victories with 5,323. The great Cigar delivered 19 of those wins–16 in a row–and $9,999,815 in earnings to those totals in the mid-1990s.

With a crew of accomplished stakes runners, Mott will once again be a major player during the 155th summer of racing in Saratoga that starts Thursday. While Cody's Wish (Curlin), who is being considered for the GI Whitney S. on Aug. 5, may have the highest profile at the moment, he is not the only star in Mott's barn located next to the Oklahoma training track. Also in residence along the shedrow are champion sprinter Elite Power (Curlin) and multiple graded stakes winners Casa Creed (Jimmy Creed), Frank's Rockette (Into Mischief), War Like Goddess (English Channel), Art Collector (Bernardini), and Caramel Swirl (Union Rags). Graded stakes winners Poppy Flower (Lea) and Wakanaka (Ire) (Power {GB}) are still at Belmont Park. Art Collector is the only one not being pointed to a Saratoga start.

After stepping back into his familiar role of talking about his horses and upcoming races, Mott acknowledged that he was upbeat and ready for the upcoming season.

“I am, all the time. I don't panic as much as I used to. I don't get the anxiety that I used to have,” he said. “I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it. There was a point when I thought I had to be leading trainer here. It's like, 'Oh, I was leading trainer last year. I've got to do it again.' I don't feel that. I just hope each individual horse does well.”

Mott saddled his first horse at Saratoga in 1984, has been at the meet every year since 1987 and won or shared the training title nine times between 1992 and 2007. These days he often finishes third behind the dominant duo of Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.

“Naturally, I don't have quite as many as some of them,” Mott said. “I have a large stable. I have the same large stable, like I used to have, but some of these guys have got huge stables.”

Last year, he was fifth in wins with 16 from 114 starters. Brown snagged the title with 42 wins from 197 starts and Pletcher was next with 38 wins from 159 starters. With Olympiad (Speightstown)'s victory in the $1-million GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, Mott finished third in purse earnings with his personal best of $3,262,117.

With Eddie Davis up, Cody's Wish gallops Wednesday morning | Sarah Andrew

Godolphin homebred Cody's Wish could give Mott his first victory in the $1-million Whitney. The 4-year-old colt has won six in a row and nine of 10 starts since breaking his maiden in October 2021. In his most recent start, Cody's Wish won the GI Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Mile H. at Belmont Park. He has proved effective at two turns, winning the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November. Mott said the challenge will be the distance, to see if he can stretch out a bit more and continue his dominant run at 1 1/8 miles.

“He has not won at nine furlongs,” Mott said. “We know what he can do at a mile. Now older and more experienced, seasoned, maybe the mile and an eighth is more within his reach.”

Mott is leaning toward the Whitney because he doesn't have any other options on the Saratoga schedule. He is not interested in running Cody's Wish in the six-furlong GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29–his 70th birthday–as it is Elite Power's preferred distance. The more suitable seven-furlong GI Forego S., which Cody's Wish won last year, is on Aug. 26

“That's a long way, a long time to wait,” Mott said. “You kind of get forced into thinking about other things. If they had a flat mile race here that was a million dollars, we'd be looking at that but they don't have it. The Whitney is one of the two more prestigious races they run up here and he is a possible to run in it.”

Mott has won 464 races in 2,646 starts and earned $41,065,994 in purses at Saratoga. According to Equibase, he has 91 stakes victories at the Spa. Since he notched his first graded stakes win at Saratoga in 1990 with Chief Honcho in the GII Jim Dandy, his horses have prevailed in 29 different graded stakes with a total of 65 winners. Twenty-five have been in GI races.

Despite all that success in Saratoga, Mott has yet to win either the Whitney or the GI Travers S. He is 0-for-11 in the Whitney with three seconds. In the Travers, he has two seconds in 10 starts.

War Like Goddess trains Wednesday at the Spa | Sarah Andrew

Through the years he has won the GII National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame S. and the GII Glens Falls S. seven times each, the GI Fourstardave H. and the GII Bernard Baruch H. five times each and the GI Diana S. and the Jim Dandy four times. Since being hired as Bert and Diana Firestone's trainer in 1987, he has had at least one graded stakes win in 34 of 36 seasons at Saratoga.

Casa Creed will be Mott's first stakes runner of the meet in Saturday's GIII Kelso S., formerly run as the Forbidden Apple. He picked up his third Saratoga win last year in the Fourstardave. Mott said that Poppy Flower and Wakanaka could run in the GIII Caress S. on July 22. Frank's Rockette is preparing for the GII Honorable Miss H. on July 26. War Like Goddess is headed to the Glens Falls on Aug. 3, a race she has won the last two summers. Caramel Swirl may make her next start in the GI Ballerina on Aug. 26.

In the early 1980s, Mott was based at Churchill Downs and had emerged as a top, young trainer. He recalls that it took some courage to make his first venture to Saratoga in 1984.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It was to see the people that were here and who you're running against and everything. Yeah, it was a big deal to me. It was a big deal.”

That summer he picked up three seconds in seven starts. The next year, he brought four horses and each of them ended up second. He skipped 1986 and in 1987 made his first trip to the winner's circle.

For many years, Mott has been based in Saratoga from April to November when the training track is open. His main barn was once used by Hall of Famer MacKenzie Miller.

“This is actually home, and I wouldn't want to do it any other way,” he said. “At this moment. I think I've got the best of both worlds right now. I have no complaints.”

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