For days, reporters have been asking Bill Mott about his successful season at Saratoga, where he leads all trainers with a 16-6-10 standing from 53 starts.
For days, Mott has been a realist about his chances; he’s seen other horsemen hit unexpected winning streaks, has known the dry spells that can suddenly hit a leading trainer’s string. Just because he was ahead at week one, or week two, or week three of the meet doesn’t mean he’ll be the last man standing when they run the last race on the last day. And that is what Mott has been quick to say.
But the morning of Aug. 19, sitting outside the shedrow astride his bay stable pony, the trainer finally gave in. With the horses heading into a fourth week of racing at the Spa, Mott, 54, admitted the idea of having this year’s title within his grasp is becoming more a likelihood and less a faint possibility.
“I pick up the Pink Sheet every day and look at the entries, so it’s hard not to notice who has a good horse or might end up getting in front,” he said. “Yeah, I’m watching the standings now, but I’m not agonizing over them.”
Mott knows better than to dwell on possibilities. His is a contentment born of experience and of satisfaction in a job well done.
From 1992 to 2001, Mott won or shared eight training titles at the Spa. In that same time he won back-to-back Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top trainer, saddled champion Cigar to an undefeated 10-win season, and became the youngest trainer inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Six years ago, however, Mott surrendered the Saratoga title to Todd Pletcher, who took the ball and ran with it. Until this meet, when Pletcher’s string began to flounder, the title never returned to Mott’s grasp.
But this year, Pletcher has won only nine races in spite of saddling 98 starters, and Mott’s stable is stronger than ever – a fact that the modest horseman attributes to hard work and sheer racing luck.
“We always want to win up here, but we weren’t trying to be leading trainer,” Mott said. “Sometimes that’s just the way it works. You can’t predict the outcome.”
True to form, Mott views the remaining two weeks of the meet with down-to-earth perspective.
“We’ve had two or three horses we were waiting on that we expected to fire, and they came in second or third,” he said. “I’m more concerned with how to figure out those horses I am with keeping track of our winners.”
Thankfully, the winners will keep track of themselves. And they keep on coming, from dirt to turf horses, including Sharp Susan’s stakes victory in the Aug. 17 Lake Placid (gr. II). Like Pletcher’s arrangement with John Velazquez, Mott has secured a first-call jockey in the form of Cajun hotshot Kent Desormeaux, and the two are blazing away with 13 racing days remaining until the end of the meet.
“Racing is very competitive here, and you never know what’s going to happen,” Mott said.
Judging from the way the meet is going for his string so far, we at least have an inkling. Bill Mott, Saratoga’s leading trainer for 2007? Stay tuned.