NYRA conditioners enjoying success training at Saratoga Race Course into the fall

October 27, 2021

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As the Saratoga Race Course meeting winds down each September, horsemen begin to make their seasonal pilgrimage back downstate to Belmont Park, taking along most of their horses to prepare for the fall meet. 

While the weeks preceding the final race at Saratoga are noticeably quieter than the summer months, some of racing’s most elite trainers continue to relish the quiet atmosphere and unique facilities available to them at the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga, including a new and improved 1-mile dirt surface, a seven-furlong turf course, and access to the infield for galloping. 

This season was the first over the newly renovated dirt track, which reopened for training on May 12 after an extensive reconstruction project added a limestone base, improved drainage, and an inner safety rail. 

The track was also widened to ensure a safer trip around the oval for the large volume of horses who take up their morning exercise at the East Avenue facility during the peak of the season. 

Amid a backdrop of bright fall foliage Thursday morning, 24 horses posted works over the dirt surface, including trainees from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott

As Mott observed his horses cooling out around his barn, he stood in a calm air with only the sounds of the wash pad and the chirp of birds breaking the silence. Serene mornings like Thursday’s are one of the reasons Mott is among the last to pack up his tack and head south each year. 

“The quiet here and a good track are why we like to stay,” said the 10-time Breeders’ Cup winning conditioner. “They did a terrific job on re-doing the track, too, and we are really pleased with it.”

Maintaining a full barn of horses at the Oklahoma in the post-season months, Mott has made Saratoga the home base for his top horses, including Grade 1 Woodward winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic contender, Art Collector, and four other Breeders’ Cup hopefuls. 

A resident of Saratoga Springs, Mott prefers to keep his top horses close to home, something his son and assistant trainer, Riley Mott, says makes the Oklahoma essential to the success of his operation. 

“This is home here for the boss and this is where we want to be,” he said of his family’s connection to Saratoga. “It’s worked well for us each year and there’s not many downsides to being here.” 

Mott emphasized the improvements and safety enhancements made to the Oklahoma by way of the renovation project completed last spring. 

“The advantage of keeping horses here is there’s less horse traffic and the track surface is very good,” he said. “The track has stayed good [all year]. It drains much better and can handle a lot of rain. It stays tighter whereas before the renovation, it could get on the looser side and break away from [horses] as they went along. But the material they’ve integrated into the track seems to hold together and they can get over it well.” 

“From what we can tell, the horses have stayed sound over it,” he added as he saddled a pony to accompany trainees to the track. “We haven’t had any major or chronic issues with our horses. It’s remained very consistent.” 

When preparing horses for major events like the Breeders’ Cup, trainers carefully map out a routine and training regimen that will best serve their horses. Mott has found that opting for a more subdued environment allows horses to focus on the task at hand. 

“There’s less hustle and bustle than in the racing season and we can kind of take our time here,” he added. “It definitely gives us an edge.” 

Through October 23, three of Mott’s four winners at the Belmont fall meet had their final timed work at Saratoga.

Multiple Grade 1 winning trainer Christophe Clement also maintains a strong contingent at Saratoga. Like Mott, it’s a family operation with Miguel Clement, Christophe’s son, managing more than two dozen horses currently residing at Saratoga. 

“See how green the turf still is, even into October,” Miguel Clement remarked as he made the short walk from his shed row to the first turn of the track, watching over his trainees that are distinguished with a golden “CC” on their saddle towels.

A healthy turf course is integral to Clement’s training program, which has seen some of its greatest successes over the grass. Clement has conditioned top turf horses such as two-time Eclipse Award champion turf horse Gio Ponti, and most recently, Gufo, winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga this year. 

“It’s hard to imagine a track can be as nice as it is now considering it’s the end of the season,” he said. “I think the turf here all year is better than most tracks at the beginning of their year.” 

In addition to a well-maintained turf course, Clement praised the Oklahoma’s access to the infield, a rare accommodation that allows him and his father to better assess their trainees’ affinity for turf racing. 

“The more you see them on the grass, the more you make them less green and prepare them for race day. On race day, there is a question of ability with 2-year-olds (on turf), and the more we can expose them to different scenarios, the better it will be when they race. It’s unique to train like that and we use the infield a lot.”

As of October 23, five of Clement’s 10 winners at the Belmont fall meet had their final timed work at Saratoga.

Though Saratoga is a 200-mile trip from Belmont, Clement believes the quality of the Oklahoma as a training center makes the effort required to ship back and forth to Belmont Park more than worthwhile. 

“I’m a big fan of the entire facility here,” he said as he watched 4-year-old filly Mumbai prepare to gallop. “The truth is, we love it here and want to stay here as long as we possibly can. I’ve never had an issue shipping and have seen a lot of success from it.” 

Open for training from April to November, the Oklahoma serves as a home for small and large operations alike with more than 400 horses currently on the property, providing the facilities necessary for success at the sport’s highest levels. 

As many horses make their final preparations for the Breeders’ Cup, racing’s next champion may be gearing up for their turn in the spotlight from the storied green barns off East Avenue. 

For info on the Best Breeders’ Cup Seminar click HERE.

Mary Eddy/NYRA Press Office

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