08/06/2001 12:00AM

Mott strikes again on turf

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It seems trainer Bill Mott has cornered the market on stakes-winning grass horses with King Cugat, Hap, and Baptize in his barn.

Baptize gave the Hall of Fame trainer his latest win in a turf stakes on Monday at Saratoga in the $150,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Handicap.

Baptize, the 4-5 favorite and 122-pound highweight in the seven-horse field, won the Grade 2 Hall of Fame for 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths. Strategic Partner closed for second and finished a half-length in front of Saint Verre in the 1 1/8-mile race, run over the Mellon course. Completing the order of finish were First Spear, Royal Ambition, Tempest, and Dayton Flyer.

Baptize was ridden by Jerry Bailey, who notched his sixth Hall of Fame win.

Bailey placed Baptize in third, close to front-runner Saint Verre and Tempest through fractions of 24.07 seconds, 48.72, and 1:12.25. Bailey took aim on the leaders around the far turn and Baptize put away Saint Verre with a furlong remaining. Strategic Partner came wide with a late move but couldn't reel in Baptize.

Baptize ($3.70) covered the distance in 1:47.94 over a firm course.

"It was a slow pace, but we were close enough that I wasn't worried about it," Bailey said.

Trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Earlie Fires, inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier in the day, made the trophy presentation.

"I was anxious to win this race," said Mott, who won the Hall of Fame in 1992 and 1996. "We got some members of the Hall of Fame down here and I wanted to get my picture taken with them."

Mott, who trains Baptize for Gary and Mary West, said the $100,000 Saranac here Sept. 2 is a possible next start for the horse.

Go to Saratoga coverage.