Ron Moquett’s shedrow in the Clark Stakes Barn between the paddock and Siro’s stays plenty busy during the Saratoga Race Course meeting.
Horses come and go, shipping in from Moquett’s main base at Churchill Downs when they are to close a race, and shipping back after they run or if they’re not quite ready. Owners and bloodstock agents pop in, too, usually asked to lend the crew a hand and sometimes even obliging.
The horses Moquett brought this year were ready and with the halfway point in the books by the end of racing Saturday, Moquett already surpassed his win total of the last two years. Moquett won with two of his first 13 starters to go with a second and a third, not that he’s all too preoccupied with his win percentage.
Moquett always makes a point to discuss the individual development of a horse and with patient owners like Alex and Jo Ann Lieblong fueling the barn with quality stock the trainer gets the time to do just that.
The meet could have gotten off to an even bigger start if multiple graded stakes winner Whitmore made it to the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt July 29. He made it to Saratoga in July but Moquett decided just before entry time that he wasn’t happy with one of the gelding’s feet. Since the son of Pleasantly Perfect is a gelding and because Moquett isn’t one to rush, Whitmore will instead target another spot in September with the Breeders’ Cup Sprint still a long-range goal.
With one more horse to train after the break on the main track Friday, the native of Hot Springs, Ark., talked about his Saratoga-based and Saratoga-bound runners and other top members of his stable with The Special’s Tom Law.
Whitmore: Won five straight at end of 2016 and start of 2017, including Grade 3 Count Fleet at Oaklawn and Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico, before finishing third in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont June 9. Shipped back to Kentucky shortly after the Vanderbilt. “He’s doing fine, worked last Sunday. We’re going to keep an eye on all the races, including the Maryland race (De Francis Dash at Laurel Sept. 16). He shipped in, we didn’t like the way his foot looked, so we shipped him back. When you watch him work it’s so funny to watch his stride. It’s an unfair advantage. He’s a fast, fast horse. This year the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is going to be fun. That’s my whole goal, to get there and get there happy. They can do whatever they want between now and then and if we get there in the right order like we think we can, they’re going to have to deal with us.”
Serious I Candy: Alex and Jo Ann Lieblong’s 3-year-old filly finished fourth in debut here last summer, ran once more in September and comes off a fifth in Ellis Park maiden July 16. Entered in second race Monday. “She’s by Candy Ride and a nice filly. Maiden special, 5 1/2 on the turf should suit her.”
Castle Ridge: A $14,000 weanling buy in 2015, 2-year-old filly by Majesticperfection is working steadily at Churchill Downs, including half-mile in :47.60 Aug. 6. “She’s a fast filly. We have some high hopes for her.”
Murika: Southern Springs Stables spent $45,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale for daughter of Awesome Patriot. Breezed a bullet half-mile in :49 Monday on the Oklahoma Training Track. “She’s a half to Far Right, who was second in the Arkansas Derby and got beat by some punk named American Pharoah. I own a piece of her.”
Petrov: Runner-up in the Grade 3 Southwest and Smarty Jones this winter at Oaklawn Park Won allowance race going 7 furlongs Aug. 4. “We backed up to let him gain some confidence; it’s kind of hard to get a confidence builder here at Saratoga because every race has good caliber horses. When he performed the way he did it was some kind of vindication. You shouldn’t be apologizing when you have a 3-year-old colt that’s made $300,000 this year but still we felt like we had to back him up. The owners (Rialto Stable and Head Of Plains Partners) have been very cool about me doing what I wanted to do with him and it’s paying off. We’re going to look at the Allen Jerkens, but we’ve got other stuff on the radar, too. That Allen Jerkens is going to be an awesome race.”
San Juan Diego: A $90,000 purchase this year by Southern Springs Stables, 2-year-old New York-bred colt is by Heavy Breathing out of stakes-placed Fortunate Prospect mare Fortuesque. “Bought him at the sale and I liked him. I saw him before I even opened my book. I’ve always been OK with looking outside the box and understanding when you get to that stage, pedigree is to be considered but it’s not the only tool. I never would have had Whitmore or Far Right or Gentlemen’s Bet, or any of the horses we’ve run well with. Amie’s Dini, she cost $3,000 as a yearling and she ran second in the Fantasy. Livi Makenzie cost $5,500 as a yearling and retired with four graded stakes placings and ($354,069). Heykittykittykitty is by Tactical Cat, ran for maiden 15 and finished second in a Grade 2. First or second 18 out of 21 outs. Those are pedigrees nobody would look at.”
Blasphemy: Bought by the Lieblongs for $70,000 this year, he worked five times at Churchill Downs before a half-mile in :48.16 on the main track July 28. “He’s the man. He’s by Anthony’s Cross. I wanted to change stuff up, you guys get all these regal pedigrees all the time. How many Bernardinis can you look at really? And Tapits. Every now and then you want to see an Anthony’s Cross or a Pleasantly Perfect. That’s what Whitmore is, a Pleasantly Perfect. This colt, hopefully he’ll run by the end of the meet.”
Spark Joy: Purchased by the all-female group It’s All About the Girls for $100,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale, daughter of Creative Cause is at Churchill but on Moquett’s radar. “She’s one you need to remember. Same ownership as Our Majesty, you know them, It’s All About the Girls. Big gray filly, she’s funny. Could be later but is definitely the right kind.”
Lighthawk: Two-year-old son of Tapit is out of Grade 1 winner Lighthouse Bay, winner of the 2013 Prioress at Saratoga. Bought for $300,000 this year, he’s working at Churchill. “He’s a real-name pedigree, by Tapit. If he makes it here it will be toward the end of the meet. He’s a bad ass. We found him at a 2-year-old in training sale. Here, I’ll show you a picture. I’ve got some videos, too.” After showing the pictures and video, Moquett chats with bloodstock agent Steve Young about the colt. “He’s a SWY Production,” Young said. “He’s a serious horse. I can hear Larry Collmus saying it now: ‘Here comes the Hawk.’ ”
Johnny Obvious: Southern Springs’ 3-year-old Wildcat Heir gelding broke his maiden for $50,000 last summer. He won a 5-furlong allowance at Churchill June 22 to improve to 3-for-7. “He won here last year and I’m hoping to run him again at this meet.”
Mono: Rialto Racing Stable’s 3-year-old son of First Samurai finished second in his first two starts this winter and spring at Fair Grounds and Churchill before fifth in 7-furlong maiden here Aug. 5. “He ran here on the big day, Whitney Day. Before that he was second twice, so he’s had three outs, but he’ll run back here. I’ll find a similar spot but further.”
She Beast: Half-sister to Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner The Big Beast, 2-year-old filly was purchased as a weanling by the Lieblongs for $350,000 at 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale. They offered her as a yearling at last year’s Saratoga sale but RNA’d her for $685,000. “That’s one you need to know. It’s The Big Beast’s sister. She’s large and she gets to determine when she runs. She’s definitely a big, fast filly. She’s everything you’d want and the brother left big shoes for her to fill, in several ways, and the size is just part of it. Luckily I’ve got an owner that says, ‘Run them when they’re ready.’ So we’re going to give her every chance to develop. She was here, but I just sent her back to Churchill. I sent her up so everybody could see her. She worked fast, I just felt it would be pushing her to do this. I’m thinking Keeneland, kind of like Rockshaw last year. Mr. Lieblong bought her back; he owned her as a weanling then sold her as a yearling, but bought her back. She’s cool.”
Powerful Ally: Third in 9-furlong maiden special weight the first Sunday of the meet for the Lieblongs, 3-year-old Stay Thirsty colt was fifth in debut in April at Oaklawn and second in maiden at Churchill before coming to Saratoga. “He’s sitting on a good race. He ran that day and of course Chad (Brown) had one in, Todd (Pletcher) had one in. It was a nice race and I thought he ran well because it was his first race around two turns. We’re going to run him back on the 16th and we look for it to be a tough race but we hope he’ll move forward.” Young: “Chad had the Juddmonte horse and Todd had Uncle Mojo. That’s a graded maiden race.”
Pryor: Bought by the Lieblongs for $200,000 this year, 2-year-old by Paynter is working steadily at Churchill. “He’s out of Awesome Humor. The reason we named him Pryor is we kept trying to figure out a name, we were going to try and name him Peb because of the Awesome Humor and Paynter, but we couldn’t get permission. So then I asked Mr. Lieblong, ‘who’s your favorite comedian?’ He said Richard Pryor is first and Red Skelton is second. He went with Pryor. He’s a real nice horse, came out of a 2-year-old sale. I didn’t want people to say we didn’t have any pedigrees. He could make the end of this meet.”