04/30/2002 11:00PM

Will Mott fill hole in his hand?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Bill Mott doesn't know how winning the Kentucky Derby would compare to some other things he has accomplished in the sport. But he would like to find out.

Mott, 48, the youngest trainer to be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame, has not been a factor in the Triple Crown. He has run just three horses in the Kentucky Derby, one in the Preakness, and four in the Belmont. His best result was a second-place finish by Vision and Verse in the 1999 Belmont won by Lemon Drop Kid.

Mott has run horses at Churchill Downs for 30 years, and ranks as that track's all-time leading trainer in career wins and stakes victories. While he has excelled in Derby Day stakes, he has more often than not been a spectator in the big race.

"If I could ever win it I'd be thrilled," said Mott, who will saddle longshot Blue Burner in Saturday's 128th run for the roses. "But, I've had some big thrills in the game. I've had some things happen to me that had to be as thrilling as winning the Derby would be."

Primarily, Mott was referring to Cigar, who from October 1994 through August 1996 won 16 consecutive races, tying the modern-day record set by Citation. The streak included a perfect campaign (10 for 10) in 1995 and a victory in the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996.

"If somebody asked me if you could trade that off for winning a Derby, I wouldn't trade that," Mott said of Cigar, who on Tuesday was voted into the Hall of Fame. "I'd just like to add [the Derby] to the list."

Mott may have more opportunities to accomplish that. Mott trained mostly for Allen Paulson in the 1990's. Paulson's stable consisted primarily of horses with turf and late-developing pedigrees.

"I remember looking down my list of 2-year-olds some of those years and there would be maybe two or three that might even qualify pedigree-wise," Mott said.

Paulson died in 2000, and in the last few years Mott's stable began to change. His clientele, which includes Live Oak Plantation, Centennial Farm, Marty Wygod, and The Thoroughbred Corp., were buying more horses with dirt pedigrees. Last year, in New York, Mott won 22 juvenile races, and thought he may have had a couple of classic contenders.

Lightening Dehere was sidelined after his maiden win with a chipped ankle. Listen Here won the Nashua, but showed distance limitations when trying two turns. Spinning Tales was slow to come around after winning his maiden, and Yankee Gentleman, a son of Storm Cat, didn't debut until March.

Mott also had horses for Gary West, but the two parted ways last fall. Mott had picked out Buddha for West at the yearling sale. Buddha, now trained by James Bond, is 3 for 3 this year, including a victory in the Wood Memorial, and is a top Derby candidate.

Mott picked up Blue Burner from owner George Steinbrenner after the horse had won his first two races at Monmouth Park for trainer John Tammaro. After winning an allowance race at Gulfstream in early January, Blue Burner finished third in the Fountain of Youth, second in Florida Derby, and fifth in the Wood Memorial, beaten five lengths.

Though disappointed by the Wood result, Mott is heartened by the fact that the Wood is viewed as the best Derby prep of the season, and his horse has trained well at Churchill and there is no standout in the Derby field.

"Just analyzing the rest of the field, it wouldn't make you turn and run," Mott said.

So, how will Mott react should he win the Derby?

"Let me win it and I'll tell ya," Mott said.

Perhaps, he'll let us know Saturday night.