At least two trainers with a chance to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday have been wearing New York Yankees caps this week _ Eoin Harty and Bill Mott.
"I work for Steinbrenner, so I got mine for free," Mott boasted the other morning at Churchill Downs, the blue cap fitting snugly on his head. "It's unfortunate his horse didn't make it to the Derby this year."
Yankees' boss George Steinbrenner's Majestic Warrior won't be around Derby day, but two other Mott-trained 3-year-old colts will _ Court Vision and Z Humor. Harty, who trains Colonel John but does not have horses with Steinbrenner, said he bought his Yankees cap.
For Mott, two Derby horses is heady stuff. The Hall of Famer with more wins at Churchill Downs than any other trainer has never won the Derby, never been close on the rare occasions he had a horse in the race.
For nearly 30 years, Mott has watched hundreds of Derby horses parade past his barn on a path leading to the track, calling it "a great scene and nice to be part of in the years you're able to."
Mott has been able to join in just three times, with poor results. His best finish was eighth by Favorite Trick, the second betting choice in the field.
"It's a slightly empty feeling if you're not in it," the 54-year-old Mott said. "I suppose you have to wait your turn."
This could be the year, though. Court Vision, winner of the Remsen Stakes as a 2-year-old, has been a solid performer this year.
The son of Gulch finished third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Wood Memorial in his two preps, and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, the nation's leading rider last year.
"There's a lot to like about Court Vision," said fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "First, you've got Bill Mott and second you've got the best rider in the country on him. Neither one has a Derby, and maybe if they hold hands and do it together it might come to pass."
Z Humor comes into the Derby off a third-place finish in the Illinois Derby. Rene Douglas has the mount.
"I feel pretty good about both horses," Mott said. "They both have pedigree that say they should get the trip (of 1 1/4 miles), and Court Vision's running style certainly indicates he can."
Court Vision is 20-1 on the morning-line, while Z Humor is 30-1.
Mott is not the most emotional trainer in the game, with a wry smile about the best reaction you'll get out of him after he wins. And he's won a lot, more than 3,700 times, including 584 at Churchill. He says he's passionate about winning, and a Derby triumph would be a thrill.
"I care," he said. "I don't like to lose. Winning and losing sort of determines your whole mood."
Whatever happens in the Derby, Mott will always have Cigar, who won 16 consecutive races in the mid 1990s and was voted Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996. Cigar didn't run in the Derby.
"I've already been lucky enough to maybe train the best horse I'll ever train," he said, "but that doesn't mean that we're going to stop looking and hoping and try to get something as equally good. I was very lucky to have Cigar."
Mott, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with his wife and four children, grew up around horses in South Dakota. His father was a veterinarian, and Mott owned and trained his first horse, a $320 mare named My Assets, when he was 15. He opened a public stable in 1978.
For years, Mott has trained some of the top older horses, winning the Breeders' Cup Turf with Theatrical in 1987 and Fraise in 1992, and the BC Distaff with Ajina in 1997 and Escena in 1998.
Last year, he was back in the 2-year-old business for the first time in years. Besides Steinbrenner's Kinsman Farm sending him juveniles, Zayat Stables sent him Z Humor and WinStar Farm sent him Court Vision, co-owned by IEAH Stable. He nominated 10 juveniles to the Triple Crown races, following a summer in which he won the Saratoga training title with 27 victories _ 11 by his 2-year-olds capped by Majestic Warrior's win in the Hopeful.
"I'm excited about the Derby but I try to be realistic about the whole thing," he said. "We've been here before and we'll try. And if we don't succeed this year, we'll be back next year and hopefully try again."
Mott has another goal, and this one must be realized soon. He's never been to Yankee Stadium, which will be demolished for a new stadium across the street.
"I'd love to go," Mott said, tugging on his cap. "I'm sure they'll give me tickets if I ask."