Saratoga in the fall.
The locals will debate that it’s the best time of the year in the upstate New York city. They’d probably put June in the mix, too. Both have their positives – occasional summerlike weather without the swelter of July, vibrant energy throughout town without the occasional obnoxiousness of tourists. Think less horns blowing and cars racing through small neighborhood streets at 50 miles per hour.
Horsemen like it, too. The Oklahoma Training Track keeps rolling after Closing Day comes, and this year even the main track stayed open for an extended period post-Labor Day. The Oklahoma stays open until mid-November and this year Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott used the autumnal quiet spot to prep Breeders’ Cup winners Cody’s Wish and Elite Power and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Olympiad.
“With a lot of the horses that have shipped out early, it left us to have almost a private training center,” Mott said after Elite Power won the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint over C Z Rocket and odds-on favorite and champion Jackie’s Warrior. “There were a couple hundred head of horses there. But you get a very good racetrack. When you can train on a good racetrack, … you have the benefit of that … and you don’t have to worry about missing a day or missing two or three days because of poor conditions.”
Elite Power joined Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champ Cody’s Wish as winners for Mott’s stable Saturday. Olympiad finished a second behind Flightline in the Classic and another offseason Saratoga trainee, War Like Goddess, finished third behind Europeans Rebel’s Romance and Stone Age in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Mott also prepped Obligatory and Frank’s Rockette, fifth and 11th, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Mott breezed those six over the Oklahoma dirt track Oct. 28 before shipping to Keeneland the week before Championship Saturday. A regular for much of the Oklahoma season – which runs from about April 15 to Nov. 15 depending on the weather – Mott put the finishing touches on his other Breeders’ Cup runners at Churchill Downs (Turf seventh Channel Maker and Turf Sprint ninth Casa Creed). Those two had also turned in their final prep races for the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
“As far as Saratoga goes, it gets a little cool, as it gets cool down here at night as well,” Mott said. “So, the conditions, probably the weather (is) not that much different.”
Cody’s Wish, winner of the Grade 1 Forego Aug. 27 at Saratoga, breezed six times on the Oklahoma in preparation for the Dirt Mile. The 4-year-old son of Curlin produced the heart-warming story of the year when he won the Forego and it played out again Saturday at Keeneland, with his namesake Cody Dorman in attendance to meet the colt in the winner’s circle.
Dorman suffers from Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome and is wheelchair bound. He developed a bond with the young Cody’s Wish during a 2018 Make-A-Wish event at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm and the heartwarming tale added another chapter in the Dirt Mile.
“It’s a well-documented story, and it’s been this unbelievable story from the get-go when Cody Dorman first met Cody’s Wish as just a foal in the barn,” said Michael Banahan, director of bloodstock for Godolphin USA. “They developed this bond. And he saw him a year and a half later, as a 2-year-old, and we were worried about being a rambunctious, strong 2-year-old dealing with him at that stage. And the horse put his head down in his lap. We were all surprised about that.
“And just seemed like they had this connection. The Dormans came out last Wednesday, and Bill had the horse out with Cody Dorman as well. He got down, nosed at him as well. Seems like he knows who Cody Dorman is and to have this little relationship with each other – and he’s just been a special horse for the family, for us. It’s just like a Hollywood story. It’s hard to script.”
Two races after the Dirt Mile Mott won his 12th Breeders’ Cup race, this one for longtime client Juddmonte with Elite Power. A $900,000 purchase by Juddmonte at the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale, the 4-year-old son of Curlin won his fifth straight in the Sprint as the 5-1 third choice behind odds-on Jackie’s Warrior and the mare Kimari.
Elite Power didn’t run at 2 and made it to the races in late September of his 3-year-old season last year at Churchill Downs. He spent most of the early part of his career Mott’s string at Ellis Park and Churchill, this winter and early spring at Payson Park Training Center in Florida before another stay at Churchill.
Elite Power won twice at Churchill in June, joining Mott’s main string in Saratoga before the summer meet. He won an allowance race the last Saturday of the meet – the same day Mott saddled Olympiad to victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup – before shipping downstate to win the Grade 2 Vosburgh during the Belmont at the Big A meeting. Mott breezed Elite Power twice between the Vosburgh and the Sprint, including a half in :51.11 in company with graded stakes winner Nostalgic on the Oklahoma Oct. 28 that he said looked far better than it did on paper.
“We just put an easy breeze in this horse,” Mott said. “He was in company, his final breeze coming into here, and Neil Poznansky was on him, and he looked beautiful. If you look at the time he went in 50 and 4/5th or 51. But it was just the way he did it. He did it the right way. And obviously it was enough for him to keep him on edge and get him here today.”
The wins by Cody’s Wish and Elite Power not only capped a big weekend for Mott – he won the $300,000 Fall Harvest Stakes with Wakanaka to close Saturday’s card – but the stars of the 2022 Saratoga meet. Everything started Friday with a 1-2-3 finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by Wonder Wheel, Leave No Trace and Raging Sea – who all raced at Saratoga – and continued with Hopeful winner Forte’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Four of the five Breeders’ Cup race winners on dirt Saturday – the lone exception being the superstar Flightline – raced at Saratoga in Filly and Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive, Distaff winner Malathaat and Mott’s duo. Caravel, upset winner of the Turf Sprint, also ran at Saratoga and won the Smart And Fancy Stakes. Like Mott’s winners, Malathaat was an Oklahoma regular – breezing there four times after the meet ended (including an Oct. 1 half-mile) – before shipping to Keeneland to win the Grade 1 Spinster eight days later in her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup.
The victories helped offset some of the sting of the American contingent nearly getting run out of Lexington by European counterparts, who won the three Future Stars Friday grass races with Mischief Magic (Juvenile Turf Sprint), Meditate (Juvenile Fillies Turf) and Victoria Road (Juvenile Turf). Things were no better from the U.S. team Saturday with wins by Tuesday (Filly and Mare Turf), Modern Games (Mile) and Rebel’s Romance (Turf).
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