Holiday a Time for Thanks and Prayers for Hall of Fame Trainer Bill Mott

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Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Just F Y I, $2 million NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Santa Anita Park, Eclipse Sportswire
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is congratulated after Just F Y I won the the $2 million NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire/Bill Denver)

Thanksgiving dinner had a different feel to it Nov. 23 for trainer Bill Mott and his family.

As most of the family members gathered in Memphis, there was much to give thanks for.

Mott, the patriarch, is closing out one of the finest years in an illustrious Hall of Fame career that dates back to 1973 and is very likely to be rewarded with his fourth Eclipse Award as the outstanding trainer and first since 2011.

“It’s been a great year and I am thankful to all the owners, my staff, and everyone else involved in it. It’s not just about me,” Mott humbly said.

Bill Mott, Cody Dorman, Santa Anita Park, BENOIT
Mott with Cody Dorman at Santa Anita Park in November. (BENOIT photo)

Yet away from the racetrack, in the game of real life that matters most, a year that could conceivably feature a trio of champions in Mott’s barn, one of them the Horse of the Year, Mott and his family have endured the kind of stress and heartbreak that can easily weigh people down.

There was Mott’s well-known and celebrated work as the trainer of Godolphin’s homebred Cody's Wish, the aforementioned Horse of the Year candidate who will forever be linked to Cody Dorman, the courageous teenager who was afflicted with the debilitating disease Wolf-Hischhorn syndrome and was the multiple Grade 1 winner’s namesake.

After several years of watching the joy and pain Cody and the Dormans experienced, one of the most emotional moments in Mott’s career came Nov. 4. With Cody Dorman and his family in attendance, in the final start for Cody Wish, the son of Curlin recorded his second straight Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victory by a nose over Preakness Stakes winner National Treasure after a furious stretch duel.

The very next day, Mott received the shattering news that Cody Dorman had passed away.

“We heard about it Sunday [Nov. 5] and when I got the call it’s like ‘Are you kidding me?’ The timing of the whole thing was something you never would expect,” Mott said. “I think Cody’s Wish added years to Cody’s life. It gave him inspiration and strength, but I still can’t believe how it all came to an end.”

About two months earlier, Mott, his wife, Tina, and the entire family was devastated when they learned that now 2-year-old Margot Mott, the daughter of Bill’s son Riley and his wife, Megan, had a malignant brain tumor. Margot is now receiving treatment at St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in Memphis, where Bill and Tina celebrated Thanksgiving with Riley, Megan, Margot, and their newest addition, William, who was born in June.

And while all of this was happening, for the last two years the 70-year-old trainer dealt with tremendous physical pain that required hip replacement surgery in mid-September.

For Bill Mott, who has spent a lifetime at the racetrack where joy and tragedy can be intertwined, 2023 will be remembered at the races and at home for that same type of emotional swings.

“There’s been a lot of challenges this year. We’ve had good times and some challenges that you have to overcome,” said the 15-time Breeders’ Cup winner. “There are happy, gleeful times and then a tremendous amount of disappointment. If you are going to have any longevity you have to get used to these things. It’s part of handling the test of time, whether you do it gracefully or not.”

Mott has surely passed the test of time in a manner that few trainers have. The youngest trainer admitted to the sport’s Hall of Fame, his 5,367 career wins include a lengthy list of champions and unforgettable stars such as Cigar, Royal Delta, and Theatrical. His career earnings of $339.7 million are fourth on the all-time list.

This year, he has $16.7 million in earnings, needing a little more than $100,000 to set a career-best in earnings and his 94 wins includes 23 graded stakes scores. His 10 Grade 1 wins also includes Breeders’ Cup wins by Elite Power (Qatar Racing Sprint) and Just F Y I  (NetJets Juvenile Fillies) that seem certain to earn those runners an Eclipse Award.

The scope of Mott’s outstanding horsemanship and the teamwork of his staff are perhaps best reflected in his ability to win a pair of Grade 1 stakes with a 2-year-old filly and also capture a Grade 1 with a 7-year-old (Casa Creed) and a Grade 2 with a 9-year-old (Channel Maker).

Bill Mott, Cody Dorman, Cody's Wish, Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Mott celebrates after the 2023 Dirt Mile. (Eclipse Sportswire)

His character can be seen in his drive and commitment to excellence even at the most difficult of times.

“It’s a tribute to the man that he is,” said Garrett O’Rourke, manager of Juddmonte USA, which owns Elite Power. “How he is handling everything happening in his life is really not a surprise to anyone who knows him. That’s what Bill Mott is all about. All of the awards he is getting are well-deserved. The people who work for him will take a bullet for him because he treats them so well. The clients, too. We’re happy for him and supportive, but we do it in a quiet way because that’s the way Bill wants it. It’s a side of him. He’s a brave, tough personality like a John Wayne. Bill fits that mold. He’s tough, stoic. Kind to everyone, but he has high standards. His style of management is to lead by example. He never asks anyone to do something he’s not prepared to do. He sets high standards and meets them.

“There are a lot of people who are exceptional in what they do, but if there’s someone you want your children to be like, it’s Bill Mott because of the way he treats people and his work ethic. He’s a good person.”

Mott said Margot’s illness has been the most difficult situation he has ever faced.

“It has been the biggest hurdle I’ve had to cross in my life. It’s just one of those things when you try to make all the right moves and do all the right things but there’s so much of it that is out of your control. There are no quick fixes. If there was, we’d do it. We have to surround yourself with the best people you can find, let them do their job and hope and pray for the best,” he said. “You would love to absorb some of the pain your children are going through. If I could trade places with her, I would.”

One of Mott’s long-time friends and owners, Lee Einsidler, played a key role in getting Margot admitted to St. Jude’s and voiced profuse praise for the way the respected horseman has stood tall during a taxing year.

“Given his granddaughter, given his hip, given the association with Cody Dorman, I think Bill is one of the most remarkable persons I’ve ever met,” said Einsidler, a co-owner of Casa Creed.

As much as racing can be a 24/7 occupation, Mott says his work in some ways has been a blessing, giving him an avenue of temporary relief from the problems and worries surrounding him.

“Even if you are facing challenges in life, staying busy is a good thing,” he said. “It’s a diversion that takes your mind off things and clears your head so you are not thinking of a problem constantly. When things are moving slowly, there is nothing you can do about it. So, you are best to stay busy.”

Einsidler agreed. In his own life, his son, Aaron, and Aaron’s wife passed away in 2020 and Einsidler said watching Casa Creed finish a game third in the Fourstardave Handicap 11 days after his son’s death played a key role in helping him to move forward after the tragedy.

“Being at Saratoga, it was therapy for me after Aaron died. I have known Bill for 20 years and we have experienced so many great times together. He was there for me when Aaron died and I know what he is going through and how he feels and how his work is helping him,” said Einsidler, the CEO of Casamigos. “Bill truly enjoys his day job of training horses. Getting up and going to work every day is not a job for him. Training horses is his calling in life and when he’s out there training horses it allows him to take all his troubles and put it aside for a while. Training horses is what God put Bill Mott on the planet to do and it has really helped him through a very difficult year on a personal side.”

Mott added the support he has received from people in the racing industry such as Einsidler and many others has been a tremendous comfort to him and his family.

“The outreach that Megan and Riley and myself and our family has received has been amazing,” he said. “So many people have commented to us and if they can’t do anything else they will put you in a prayer group or pray for you. As competitive as our business is, there are good people out there and when they realize there’s an issue with an innocent 2-year-old child it is amazing the sympathy and the well-wishers that you get.”

Mott on horseback in 2018. (Eclipse Sportswire)

As for himself, Mott realized this summer that dealing with the chronic pain in his hip was something that could no longer be put off.

“I was going to wait until after the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “I was at Saratoga and forgot to take my pain medication and by the end of the morning I couldn’t even walk. That’s when I knew I had to get this done.”

Two months removed from the surgery, Mott enjoyed a euphoric moment earlier this week.

“I got on a horse and for the first time in two years I was not in pain,” Mott said.

That was an uplifting moment. Something worthy of thanks Thursday on a day for Bill Mott and his family that also included some somber remembrances and fervent prayers for better health in the months ahead — a time when the exemplary character of a Hall of Fame trainer will continue to be on full display.

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