09/01/2002 11:00PM

Pletcher wins close race; Mott, Bailey suspended


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher won his second Saratoga training title and first since 1998, edging defending champion Bill Mott by one victory on Monday, the final day of the meet.

Pletcher and Mott entered the final day tied at 18 wins, and Pletcher sent out Ocean Drive to win the sixth race, giving him 19. The title was not decided until the next to last race of the meet, the Grade 3 Saranac Handicap, when Pletcher finished second with Finality and Mott was fourth with Miesque's Approval, the 6-5 favorite.

"It's an exciting accomplishment for me and my entire staff," Pletcher said from Philadelphia Park, where he saddled Harlan's Holiday to win the Pennsylvania Derby. "It's always fun to win anywhere but doing it at Saratoga means a lot. It's been a bittersweet meet. We've had some ups and downs. The blessing of it was the battle for leading trainer kept us all focused and our attention away from some of the bad things that happened earlier in the meet."

Pletcher lost two top horses when Freedom's Daughter, a stakes-winning 2-year-old filly, died on Aug. 12 from an intestinal disorder and Warners, a talented 3-year-old colt, died on Aug. 20 from laminitis.

The end of Mott's three-year reign as leading trainer came on the same day that Mott received a seven-day suspension from the stewards for having one of his horses, Sweet Charity, test positive for the painkiller Lidocaine after a third-place finish at Aqueduct on Jan. 4. Mott's first call rider, Jerry Bailey, also received a seven-day suspension for careless riding aboard Foreverness in Sunday's 10th race.

Mott originally appealed his ruling but ultimately dropped the appeal to serve his days from Sept. 3 to 9. Trainer Edward Barker and Gary Sciacca dropped appeals of similar suspensions and were also handed seven- day suspensions on Monday.

"I appealed to give us time to do a little investigating into how the horse even got the drug in its system," said Mott. "We're not disputing the results of the test. The split sample confirmed a miniscule amount. But we have no idea where it came from. It's nothing we treated her with. The prevailing thinking on Lidocaine is that it can come from any of several fairly common topical salves. I just think we need to get to a point where the penalties and rulings become up to date with the technology."

Bailey was originally assessed a 10-day suspension, which was reduced to seven by the stewards when he waived his right to appeal. Bailey is also scheduled to serve his suspension Sept. 3 to 9 although he is permitted to honor his calls at Woodbine on Saturday in the Atto Mile and Summer Stakes, which would extend the suspension through Sept. 10.

Bailey finished second behind Edgar Prado in the jockey standings with 44 victories. It was only the second time since 1994 that Bailey has not won or shared the Saratoga title.

Prado won his first Saratoga jockey crown this summer, his 54 winners falling just one short of the single meet record set by Bailey a year ago.

"Winning the Saratoga riding title means a lot to me," said Prado from Philadelphia Park, where he rode Harlan's Holiday in the Pennsylvania Derby. "It's one of the highlights of my career. There's only a small circle of riders who have done it and I'm proud to be part of that small circle."

The meet was a success from a betting standpoint. The commingled handle on Saratoga races was up 5 percent from 2001, according to track officials, who said final figures would be announced later Monday. The all sources handle also increased 5 percent, track officials said. Ontrack handle was up nearly 1 percent from a year ago.

Total attendance of 999,388 fell short of the record of 1,011,689 set in 2001.

"Considering everything we've had to deal with this summer, such as heavy rains on Travers day, the large number of sick horses we had early in the meet, and losing 31 turf races, ove rall it was an outstanding meet," said New York Racing Association president Terry Meyocks.

- additional reporting by David Grening