It’s hard to believe that it is just a few months short of 40 years since I saw Taylor's Special win the Blue Grass (G1) by 3 1/2 lengths at Keeneland. I remember thinking at the time, who is this William I. Mott listed as the trainer of the easy winner?
Mott was a youthful 30 at the time, and I was younger. It seems crazy now to think back to that moment when I had never heard of the South Dakota native, considering everything he has accomplished since that spring afternoon in the heart of the Kentucky Bluegrass.
Now 70, Mott has become an elder statesman among America’s great trainers. The Hall of Fame trainer certainly doesn’t look his age, and his success in our biggest races is going as strong as ever.
Three wins earlier this month at the Breeders’ Cup is proof of that. The ultra-popular Cody’s Wish, as well as Elite Power, were repeat winners of their races, and the undefeated Just F Y I wrapped up a championship in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
It was not hard to be happy for the affable trainer. Honing his craft for more than half a century, it’s clear that he is still very much at the top of his game.
Of course, you cannot think of the training career of Bill Mott without instantly thinking about Cigar. Mott was known at the time for his prowess with turf horses because of stars like Theatrical, Paradise Creek, and Fraise, but his career changed forever when he switched a horse from turf to dirt.
Owned by Allen Paulson, the racing career of Cigar was going nowhere fast while running on the turf under the handling of trainer Alex Hassinger in California. Transferred to Mott out East, his new trainer soon made the decision to try the turf horse on dirt, and the rest is history.
The son of Palace Music rattled off 16 consecutive main-track wins for Mott and the team. Victories which included the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the 1996 Dubai World Cup propelled the great horse to back-to-back horse of the year titles. And in both years, Mott was named the nation’s most outstanding trainer.
The great run of Cigar provided Mott instant immortality in the sport. In 1998, he became the youngest trainer to ever be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame.
There likely will never be another Cigar-like great for the likable conditioner, but the victories keep on coming.
Known for not rushing his talent early, Mott has never had a horse cross the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby. Drosselmeyer gave him his first win in a Triple Crown race when he won the 2010 Belmont Stakes, and the following year he gave his trainer a second win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Mott does count a victory in the Kentucky Derby among his vast accomplishments. Of course, that came via the infamous disqualification of Maximum Security in the 2019 edition. He was a humble and thoughtful winner after watching his long shot Country House draped in roses.
Mott’s bonanza at this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita gave him 15 career wins in the event. He has won the Distaff a record five times, led by the repeat winner in 2011 and 2012 Royal Delta. The Hall of Fame trainer always has been good with the fillies and mares.
Looking back to those early years, the days of me wondering who Mott was did not last long. Two hard-hitting mares named Heatherten and Sefa’s Beauty saw to that.
Combined, the two won 46 times in 105 races. Both classy mares became millionaires in the mid-'80s, as the former Jack Van Berg assistant quickly established himself as one of the nation’s top young trainers.
For good or for bad, he will be remembered as the man behind America’s best horse of the final decade of the 20th century. Mott is obviously so much more than a one-hit wonder, but he always will be connected to Cigar and vice-versa.
Cigar retired in 1996, but nearly three decades later, his trainer does not look to be slowing down anytime soon. His place in history secured, his legacy can be furthered by his son Riley, who opened his own stable and trained his first winner in 2022.
In 2023, Bill Mott once again refused to be forgotten. It was yet another season in which he demonstrated his ability to bring out the best in the horses who walk his shedrow. Sprinting or running long, turf or dirt, male or female, it does not seem to matter.
From those early years of Taylor’s Special, Heatherten, and Sefa’s Beauty through his current stars Cody’s Wish, Elite Power, Just F Y I, Casa Creed and War Like Goddess, Bill Mott remains a consistent winner at the highest level. He also remains a class act.