Never doubt Ron Moquett’s ability to be the most hands-on horseman possible. (Editor's note: Originally published in May 2 edition of The 2020 Special)
Despite dealing with the autoimmune disease atypical sarcoidosis – a condition that affects the lungs, makes breathing difficult and makes him especially at risk for the coronavirus and seasonal flu – Moquett still makes it out to the Count Fleet barn on Oaklawn Park’s backstretch daily albeit with a twist.
“With my condition I’m one of those people that has to be very careful and that’s just a part of it,” Moquett said this week. “Anything that could turn into pneumonia is not good for someone that’s got an immune disorder and chronic lung problems.
“There are times that all the people stay put up and I go to the barn. I’m never around any people. We leave the bandages open and I get to go in, touch the horses, do all that stuff. Then I come back whenever training happens and everybody gets back in there cleaning stalls, giving baths and I go to the front of my house and watch training there. I get leg reports and depend a lot on my cameras set up around the barn that let me watch horses cool out, get baths, all that stuff.”
Moquett’s house sits just off Oaklawn’s backstretch in Hot Springs, just about at the nine-sixteenths pole.
“Everybody that runs a race has to come by my house,” he said. “It’s weird. It sounds like a Jurassic Park movie whenever they go past. You’re not going to sleep through a race. What’s weird is if I’m sitting in my living room, having a glass of tea or something, and a race goes by it vibrates the ground. That’s why I say Jurassic Park. Like when the guy in the movie who was drinking the water and he could see the ripples, that’s what it does to whatever I’m drinking. I always point it out.”
The rumbles will go past 15 times today – once for the first 13 races and twice for the finale, the “Trail’s End” traditional meet finale at 1 3/4 miles. They went past two weeks ago when Whitmore, Moquett’s pride and joy, became Oaklawn’s all-time stakes leader with his third Count Fleet Handicap win and seventh stakes score at the track.
Moquett heads into the final day of racing at his home track with 18 wins at the meet, good for fourth in the standings. He’s also fourth in the column he says counts most – earnings – with $1,129,447 in purses through Friday.
“I haven’t got a 2-year-old, they don’t allow them here. All the 2-year-olds are coming in, which would be right now,” Moquett said. “I’ve got about 35 horses. Most of them are just horses that have been around a long time. Same owners, the ones that stuck with me being sick and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for the people that allow me to do this. The loyalty of those people and a respect for me and my crew that we’re going to do our best, that means something.”
The Moquett stable has won 23 races this year, from 127 starts, which seems about normal even in a year where racing has been interrupted all over the country. Two years ago, the trainer won 91 races and had purse earnings of more than $4.4 million (both career-highs).
“We’ve never been a win-percentage group,” said Moquett, who saddled his first runner in 1997. “We look at the end of the year and you can tell what kind of year we had by the right side of the column. That’s where the money is made. We always tell people, ‘If you want to use a number to describe us, look at what the horses cost that we have then look at what they made and tell me if we’ve done a good job.’ Don’t let the aggressiveness of the way we enter be it. You can take just about anybody off the street and claim 10 horses for $50,000, run them all for $5,000 and have the highest win percentage of any trainer there. That’s not horsemanship.”
Moquett credits a loyal staff – some employees have been with him for between 10 and 15 years – along with his wife, assistant trainer and exercise rider Laura for all the success over the years. The barn made $1.2 million or more in purses every year since 2012.
Moquett hopes to add to his 2020 haul in the final days of the Oaklawn meet, but knows the task is tough in Hot Springs this year with a significant influx of leading horsemen from around the country.
“It’s amazing how hard it is to win here,” he said. “Not only the competition but the numbers. You have Baffert, Hollendorfer, Sadler, Englehart, Pletcher, Weaver, McCarthy. I tell everybody, Saratoga has a lot of really good horses but you don’t have to run against Baffert and McCarthy in maiden special weights. When we go to San Diego you don’t have to run against Pletcher and Weaver in a-other-thans. I’m looking the other day, it was Pletcher, Baffert and D’Amato, Asmussen, Cox, Calhoun, and I don’t think any of them won the race. It’s crazy.”
And now for the tour:
Whitmore: The big horse with a monster following. He won his third Grade 3 Count Fleet in the last four years April 18 to improve to 14-for-34 lifetime with a bankroll of $3,146,350. Owned by Bob LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners, the Pleasantly Perfect gelding has won stakes at 4, 5, 6 and 7, including the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga in 2018 and Grade 2 Phoenix at Keeneland in 2017.
“I’m so humbled. I try to allow him to go to the forefront and keep us in the back. I give him all the credit. I am so honored. I’m taken aback by how many people love him. I tell everybody Hot Springs claims him, different towns claim him. I snuck in on a conversation the other day that was on social media, everybody was talking about whose horse he was. I never commented I just read it. That is so cool that people like him like that. And he deserves it. I know I’m biased but I think he deserves all of it. He’s happy and we’re tickled to death with how he’s doing. We’re just going from the Breeders’ Cup backward. I would rather have a definite plan but we have to be very liquid.”
Favorite race he’s won? “Obviously the City Of Light race, the Forego, is probably my favorite. The other day, the Count Fleet here, was pretty special and I’ll tell you why. It made him the all-time winningest stakes horse in Oaklawn’s long history. The historical significance means the world to me. Maybe one day somebody will break his record but it means something to me. If I get run over tomorrow, my kids, my grandkids will be able to say my grandpa had the baddest horse, the most consistent, whatever they want to say. They could just say, my grandpa had Whitmore. You wake up every day in this game wanting one of those. You thank the racing gods that he chose me.”
How about a race where he didn’t win but you still gained more admiration of him? “That the race we got beat in the Count Fleet last year with Mitole. It was a sloppy track, it was horrible and Mitole is controlling speed. We weren’t going to beat him that day but I loved how hard he tried.
Man In The Can: JRita Young Thoroughbreds’ homebred Arkansas-bred 3-year-old Can The Man colt improved to 3-for-4 with a victory in the Rainbow Stakes April 17 and in Friday’s Arkansas Breeders’ Championship.
“He’s owned by the people that give me a good Arkansas-bred every year. He’s a very nice horse, putting everything together and we’re looking for good stuff out of him. We won the Rainbow Miss the last three years and this was the first year we won the Rainbow in a while. I’ve won it before but it had been a bit. This year we didn’t win the Rainbow Miss, but we did win the Rainbow.”
Prodigious Bay: John and Louis Cella’s Maryland-bred 3-year-old Bayern colt, bought for $110,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale, broke his maiden April 11 and runs back in Saturday’s 10th race, a loaded 1 1/16-mile optional with a field of 12.
“He’s a nice horse we have a lot of hope for, now we’re hoping he gets a good trip and does well. We feel like he’s got a real good shot to be a nice horse. The owners (who also own Oaklawn Park) have two or three with me. They’re super, super good. I said this before and got in trouble before but I don’t care, in the land of corporate decision-makers being the leaders of the track and everything is based on the almighty dollar, these guys do things for the sportsmanship. I’m always impressed by that. They’re great.”
Breaking News: The Cellas’ 4-year-old Mineshaft colt returned from five-month break to finish sixth in a 6-furlong allowance Thursday.
“Layoff. We’re going to have the best shot at his next race to come back rolling. Five years ago I’d say he would be ready to win a race like this and to go bet, but I can’t say that now because of how tough the races are now. It’s amazing how hard it is to win here.”
Petrov: An allowance winner at Saratoga in 2018, 6-year-old son of Flatter looked to end string of 11 losses dating to that mid-August afternoon in Thursday’s sixth. Entered for $35,000, he finished third.
“He hadn’t run good recently so we’re going to try and start him back up.”
Seven Nation Army: Franklin Stables’ and Southern Springs Stables’ 5-year-old First Samurai gelding won March 26, prompting Moquett to tweet “Love this song. Love this horse” along with a Spotify link to The White Stripes song.
“He’s coming around the right way. He’s one of the ones on hold, a race I tried to run him in wouldn’t go the last week.”
Implicator: Arkansas-bred 3-year-old by Race Day finished second in Oaklawn maiden races three times in four starts this season, with a fourth in the other effort.
“He finished second in his last two outs. He’s a nice homebred for Southern Springs and William Sparks.”
Subiaco: Another for Southern Springs and Sparks, Kentucky-bred 4-year-old filly by Will Take Charge won a waiver maiden claiming race March 6 and an open allowance April 3. She’s breezed twice since and Moquett will look down the road.
“She’s won her last two and is doing good.”
Firecrow: Twice a Fasig-Tipton graduate (Kentucky July as a yearling and Midlantic May as a $300,000 2-year-old), Maclean’s Music colt broke maiden in the race after last year’s Preakness at Pimlico and has added two more wins since including February score at Oaklawn. Placed in two deep allowance races in March and April.
“He’s been very nice. Owned by Mr. LaPenta and Harlow Stables (Eric Johnson, the CEO of Gulf Oil). He won an allowance race and was second in a big stakes race that was an allowance race. I want you to look up Firecrow and see what he ran against. There were four stakes winners. Wilbo won the race. He’s won the Aristides at Churchill. These are all stakes horses. St. Joe Bay is a Grade 2 winner. Graded stakes, graded stakes. That’s an allowance race anywhere in the country that’s tough to fill. The handicappers tweeted that it’s a great Grade 3 they’re running as an allowance race with a $60,000 pot.
Georgia’s Reward: JRita Young Thoroughbreds’ 5-year-old Arkansas-bred mare by Warrior’s Reward retired after a seventh in optional March 27, which came three weeks after a win at same level. Third in the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes for state-breds, she won three of 12 and earned $207,902. Biggest win came in the 2018 Rainbow Miss Stakes.
“She left the other day to go get bred (to Cross Traffic). She’s a good horse. Retired sound, just time to go get bred.”
Skyburst: Westrock Stables’ unraced homebred 3-year-old by Sky Kingdom. Ten works at Oaklawn, dating to New Year’s Eve and including back-to-back gate works April 18 and 25.
“He’s a horse I really like. He’s by Sky Kingdom, a horse Bob Baffert had for Westrock. It’s his first year for having 3-year-olds and he had one that was in the Derby that cost $875,000 as a 2-year-old (Wrecking Crew). He’s a runner. My horse is ready, too, we just didn’t get in. I’ll tell you what, it’s a lot easier to be a fan and a handicapper here than it is to win races. We were in a maiden race and I saw you had Juddmonte, Godolphin, Tom Durant, Winchell, Stonestreet, Phoenix. That’s murderer’s row.”
Skyvalue: Another Westrock homebred, the 3-year-old filly broke her maiden for a $30,000 tag in second start as favorite April 18.
“She’s one by Sky Kingdom that we won with. We were happy with that win.”
Proud Victoria: JRita Young Thoroughbreds’ 3-year-old filly by Laurie’s Rocket started career with back-to-back wins at Remington and Oaklawn before fourths in the Downthedustyroad and Rainbow Miss.
“We didn’t get the best trip that day in the Rainbow Miss, but she’s a nice horse.”