Ron Moquett loves Saratoga. He loves Oaklawn Park, too, rightfully so as Hot Springs is where he started and the place he calls home. He loves just about any place like those two spots, where racing dominates the scene and the conversation, everywhere from the backstretch to the butcher shop.
Ask him sometime about the butcher shop; you won’t be disappointed at the story.
Moquett’s career is a story in itself. Raised in Fort Smith, Ark. – for a significant portion of his childhood in foster care after the death of his mother – his earliest racing experiences started at little Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma. Moquett eventually learned to ride, competed in match races at bush tracks and small pari-mutuel venues. He eventually gravitated to Thoroughbred racing, lived in tack rooms and feed rooms to work his way up and immerse himself with everything at the barn and landed a spot as an assistant to Bernie Flint in Kentucky.
Moquett took out his training license in 1997, won his first race in 1998 at Prairie Meadows, cracked six figures in earnings in 1999, saddled his first graded stakes winner in 2001 and won his first Grade 1 stakes in 2006 with Seek Gold in the Stephen Foster Handicap. The trainer won more than $1 million in purses for the first time in 2012 and competed in back-to-back runnings of the Kentucky Derby in 2015 and 2016.
He brought another small string to Saratoga this year, bedded down again in the stakes barn not far from the paddock. He won with his second starter, The Red Dude, in a $25,000 claimer the second Sunday of the meet and hopes for more success with runners today and into the weekend. He’ll swap horses from the Saratoga group with others from his main spring/summer/fall base at Churchill Downs.
“My goal right now is if they drag you to the races here, run them here. If not, then we’ll wait,” Moquett said. “The two places you want to do well obviously, besides Keeneland, are Oaklawn and Saratoga. That’s where I want to win. Whatever we can do to do that.
“My owners are interested in that. I tell everybody I’ve never been asked if I won a title. Everyone wants to know what races I’ve won. ‘Have you won this race, the Rebel, the Forego.’ That’s what I’m focusing on, winning races with names. I want to do the best with every horse that I can. I’d like to get the most out of them for the pedigree and for the owner. I want, when it’s all said and done, to say, ‘Remember when we won this race?’ Most of all I’m a huge fan of horse racing. I love these horses. I appreciate what they do.”
Moquett, who continues to bounce back from a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease atypical sarcoidosis this winter in Hot Springs, went through the Saratoga string Thursday morning with his friend and assistant Jeff Meckor and The Special’s Tom Law. (Originally published in the Aug. 10 issue of The Saratoga Special.)
Whitmore: The big horse is back at Churchill Downs, prepping for the Grade 1 Forego Aug. 25. Winner of the Grade 3 Count Fleet this spring at Oaklawn, 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding is 10-for-21 lifetime with $1,671,000 in earnings. “He ran last time in the Belmont Sprint Championship, beat by Limousine Liberal, which we bumped off the rail and did all that crazy stuff. He keeps it exciting. He’s a good boy. Nobody would ever think he is as good as he is, because of his pedigree and all that. He’s a freak. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint, that’s my main thing. Last year we played on their field, it was an away game. This year it’s home. If they don’t think that advantage is real then we’ll talk about it after this race, right? There’s something to be said about walking out of your stall and going to the races. Especially with my horse, who I haven’t figured out a way to make him as comfortable when he ships. He kicks all the way up there, all the way home. He runs everywhere, he’s a good boy.”
San Juan Diego: Moquett’s and William Sparks’ 3-year-old New York-bred son of Heavy Breathing walks the shed during the tour. He finished third in a state-bred maiden Aug. 2. “He ran here last weekend. He’s a good boy. I wish they would write a mile or further race for New York-breds that wasn’t on the turf. He’s a route dirt horse. He’s a half to Musket Man, who was a pretty good route horse.”
Petrov: Four-time winner is multiple graded stakes placed, including a third in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint two back. Four-year-old son of Flatter finished sixth in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt last time for Moquett, Rialto Racing and Head of Plains Partners. “He’ll run in an allowance race at the end of the meet. He was unlucky down in the race in Florida, ran third, and got banged around. The race was flattered when that horse that was basically in a dead-heat with him was second to Imperial Hint. I knew he had the ability. He’s a closing sprinter and that means you’ve got to have the trip.”
Wild Moment: Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s 2-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is out of champion She Be Wild. Moquett gives her a few pats and fixes her forelock. “She’s just as smart a horse as you’ve ever been around. You can tell she’s meant to be early because her mother was such a good 2-year-old. She won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She does everything like that kid waiting behind somebody else, while you’re teaching them how to swing, she’s watching, then she goes up and knocks it out of the park. She’s like, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ She’ll run here.”
Frosted Ice: Catherine Adams-Hutt’s homebred gray 2-year-old by Bellamy Road finished fourth in state-bred on the main track in his debut July 27. “He’s a route horse, I had to run him once 5 1/2 (furlongs) and they spent 10 minutes talking about him on TVG. He comes flying. He’s definitely a bet back.”
Swing And Sway: A $117,000 buy at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred sale that Westrock Stables bought as a 2-year-old for $185,000, 4-year-old Maclean’s Music filly is 5-for-17 with $361,490 in earnings. A three-time stakes winner, she finished third last time in the Saylorville at Prairie Meadows July 5. “We’re going to run her next week in the Union Avenue (Aug. 16). She’s won two stakes this year, she’s very good.”
Treble: Runner-up two starts back in the Grade 3 Winning Colors, 4-year-old Macho Uno filly finished eighth in Grade 2 Princess Rooney on Gulfstream Park’s Summit of Speed card June 30. Owned by Rialto Racing and Moquett, she’s entered in today’s third race, an allowance-optional going 6 1/2 furlongs. “She finished an unlucky second in a Grade 3. She’s cool. We bought her for $35,000 and she’s made $222,000 and doing well.”
Our Majesty: One of two runners Moquett trains for the all-female It’s All About The Girls Stable, 4-year-old Grade 2-placed daughter of Majesticperfection finished second in optional at Prairie Meadows July 27. “She’s probably the unluckiest horse you’ve ever seen. How many horses do you know from eight outs have been disqualified from wins twice and not their fault? She didn’t get in, get out, come over on somebody. One of the DQs was in a stakes (the 2017 Purple Martin at Oaklawn). I’ve only had three disqualifications in my career. One needed to be disqualified, his name was Biker Boy and he needed it. There’s a picture of him savaging another horse. He needed it. She didn’t do anything, but she’s a graded-stakes caliber filly. She’s won five out of eight, but two of them were disqualifications. The stakes she was DQ’d in she beat Vertical Oak, Golden Mischief and just beat them easy and was placed fourth. Instead of not being a stakes winner we’re not even stakes-placed. She’ll run at the end of the meet. Either an allowance race or we’ll wait for the stakes at Belmont, the Gallant Bloom. Made $194,000, but it should be eight starts, five wins and maybe $310,000. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like winning for a bunch of cool ladies like them who love horse racing.”
The Dustman: The Lieblongs bought 3-year-old son of Tiznow for $125,000 at 2016 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. Finished 10th in his debut here July 26. “He’s a half to Coup de Grace and Dancing Rags, who won the Grade 1 at Keeneland. I had the weirdest thing happen. This horse can run. He was one of those ones that when the light comes on it’s going to be fun. He’s a serious horse. I ran him that day and it was sticky. I was about to scratch. I didn’t want to run a first-time starter over a drying out track. We were 20-1 regardless, Tom Albertrani had the Discreet Cat (Fully Vested) coming back, everybody else had a horse that’s had an out and were ready to run. I’ve seen enough in the morning to think, ‘if he goes out there and shows us he might be OK. He might not be the kind of horse that needs three or four races, he might do well.’ Then the temperature goes up, it’s very humid and I’m looking up there, still excited thinking about the workouts and he comes out of the gate and I’m like, ‘what the heck?’ It didn’t seem like he was tied in, focused, whatever. He came back and for whatever reason he was a little dehydrated. That happens on drying out, goes from being cool to being real humid. He just didn’t metabolize the right way. We got him off the straw, put him on shavings, put him on the SlimFast diet and tried to get him to tuck up a little bit. I’m excited when he puts it all together because he’s a beautiful, athletic horse.”
Laughing Fox: Union Rags colt cost the Lieblongs $375,000. He’s entered in Saturday’s second race, a 7-furlong maiden that also drew the hyped Southern Phantom and buzz horse Chief Executive from Todd Pletcher’s barn. “He’s 16-2, all boy, probably going to be a route horse. Definitely going to be a route horse. He drew the inside, which it seems like I’ve been doing quite a bit. For a first-time starter it doesn’t seem like the optimum place but we’re going to let him go out there and figure it out. He has a beautiful stride and he’s got some ability, but right now he’s in that herd mentality. If he goes out there and runs like he can, he’ll be fun. He won’t have any pressure on him, he’ll be 20-1, we’ve got the Bodemeister (Southern Phantom) that’s all colored up in there, he ran a good final sixteenth, a bunch of first-time starters, the one for Todd. My deal is I want him to be a professional, do something, give an account of himself and lead me to believe we’re on the right track. I’ve got horses that I try to win first out and then there’s horses that I think it’s better for their health and their career to allow them to learn it in the races. We don’t have training races anymore.”
Cabot: A $400,000 purchase by the Lieblongs at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale, Will Take Charge colt is training at Churchill. “Cabot is actually named after a powerful warlock. And it’s a town in Arkansas. Since Alex owns it, I’m going to say it’s Arkansas. His momma’s name is Mystic Mama and his dad is Will Take Charge. I Googled it, put down Mystic Mama and Will Take Charge and a book came up that listed all the warlocks. I started reading them. I told my son Chance about it, he went to working on it, after that we found like five warlock names. I asked Alex, what do you think of the name Cabot, he said, ‘Yeah, it’s a town in Arkansas. Perfect.’ ”
Unnamed colt by Into Mischief out of Lady Belsara: John and Louis Cella purchased him for $215,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale. He’s also in training at Churchill. “He’s a very nice horse. Let me show you what I like about him. I don’t use all the name-brand riders on the first-time starters. If you notice, Whitmore was ridden by Didiel Osorio, Petrov was ridden by Jack Gilligan. I hardly ever use name riders, unless I’m at Oaklawn then I use Ricardo Santana. Gilligan knows me, he gets on a lot of good horses for me. Check out this text, he said, ‘I love him.’ I’m a big fan of him.”
Proverb: Eric Johnson’s Harlow Stables bought 2-year-old Flatter colt for $170,000 in April. Out of the winning Yes It’s True mare Peisinoe, he’s worked three times at Churchill. “He’s really nice. When I bought him I was looking for a nice 3-year-old for these people. That’s what I think he’s going to be.”
Tipazar: William Sparks’ 3-year-old daughter of Tapizar cost $45,000 as a yearling. She’s also back at Churchill prepping for her debut with a steady work tab that includes a half-mile breeze from the gate in :48.20 July 26 and 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 Sunday. “I just got her about 50 days ago. I thought she was going to be a very nice filly. She had a little something that I thought needed some time. That owner is really cool about that. My owners, if I say that to them they’re like ‘Ok.’ It’s funny, I tell everybody that it’s weird all my owners are so cool. The reason is I sift the other ones out, in a hurry. It went from, ‘hey, we’re going to run on Thursday and her next out is going to be a stakes,’ to ‘I think I want to kick her out.’ He said OK. I really believe she’s going to teach him that if you do the right thing by your horses they will do right by you. She’s a cool son of a gun. Super fast.”