Bill Mott has accomplished just about everything you can at Saratoga Race Course, including winning or sharing nine training titles during his Hall of Fame career.
Winning the Travers isn’t one of them.
Another glaring omission is the Whitney Handicap, but he has not one, but two good shots at rectifying that on Saturday.
Mott will send out Flat Out, who was second in the Whitney and Woodward last year while trained by Scooter Dickey, and Ron the Greek, who is chasing his third Grade I of the year and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
The stablemates drew next to each other on Wednesday, Ron the Greek in the No. 6 in the nine-horse field, and Flat Out one stall to the outside.
“I don’t even know how many times I’ve been in it, but it would be great to win one,” Mott said. “It certainly is appropriately named for a race at Saratoga.”
The field for the 85th running of the Grade I Whitney appears to be evenly matched and includes two from Todd Pletcher, Monmouth Cup winner Rule and True North and Charles Town Classic winner Caixa Eletronica.
Mott’s pair are loaded with graded stakes experience, most of it with other trainers.
This will be just the second start for Flat Out while trained by Mott, and of Ron the Greek’s 19 lifetime starts, seven have come out of his barn, the first of which was a second to Convocation in an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga last year.
He’s been one of the top older horses this year, winning the Stephen Foster by a head over Wise Dan and the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap by 3 1⁄2 lengths over Setsuko.
The Whitney will be the 5-year-old Ron the Greek’s fifth start at five different tracks.
He was second to Alternation in the Oaklawn Handicap and second to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park.
“I think he’s just a real late-developing horse,” Mott said. “He’s a huge, gorgeous horse, actually, but a horse that you can tell wasn’t going to get good until later in his career. I think it’s just a timing issue, as most things are in this business. He started to come around at the right time and landed in our hands at the right time.”
Mott’s two Whitney runners have distinctly different running styles.
Ron the Greek, who will be ridden by regular jockey Jose Lezcano, is a deep closer, and Flat Out (Rosie Napravnik) prefers to be closer to the lead.
He got beat by Tizway in the Whitney last year, followed by a second to Havre de Grace in the Woodward.
Flat Out hasn’t won in five starts since taking the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
“Flat Out could probably lay a little closer to the lead, although you wouldn’t consider him a speed horse or a pace horse,” Mott said. “Ron the Greek generally drops back and comes running at the end. He’s a true closer and is a horse who’s definitely going to be a major factor when they run 10 furlongs.”
In his one start for Mott, Flat Out was second to Rule in the Monmouth Cup.
Despite the loss, Mott said he liked what he saw from the 6-year-old son of Flatter.
“I think it was a perfect race for him,” Mott said. “He probably didn’t get to run full-out the whole way. He was kind of stuffed early in the race, got out late with a furlong to run, and he was closing on the winner.
“I think it was a useful race. It was the type of race you’d like going into a race like the Whitney. It was enough, but not too much. We panic a little bit sometimes if a horse runs clear of the field and you worry about them maybe running too fast. But this was probably just right.”
Conspicuous by his absence in this race is Suburban winner Mucho Macho Man, who has been on the grounds for months, but whose next race is undecided.
Mott shrugged off the suggestion that the older division isn’t quite as strong as it has been in recent years.
“You can’t classify it as weak unless you went out and tried to find one to beat them,” he said. “It’s always easy to say, and you always hear that malarkey when they talk about the Derby field being weak and there’s not much in there. That’s just somebody’s opinion. I think these are top horses, and I don’t know what they mean. They’re the best we’ve got to offer this year, and there really isn’t any way to compare them with somebody in past years.”
Another Hall of Fame trainer with a good shot at the Whitney is Shug McGaughey, who will saddle Grade I Donn Handicap winner Hymn Book.
Unlike Mott, McGaughey has won the Whitney, although that was 23 years ago, with Easy Goer.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” McGaughey said. “It has been a long time, and we’re going to give it another try on Saturday.”
McGaughey is actually one of just two trainers to have won the Whitney in back-to-back years since 1937.
Personal Ensign won it in 1988.
The late Hall of Famer Scotty Schulhofer won consecutive Whitneys in 1994 with Colonial Affair and 1995 with Unaccounted For.