Whitmore won Oaklawn’s Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters a record four times and if the feisty 8-year-old gelding cooperates, he’ll be leading the field again in 2022.
Whitmore has returned to Arkansas, but instead of preparing for the Hot Springs, a race he won in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, the now-retired Eclipse Award winner is about to take baby steps toward a possible second career as a stable pony for Ron Moquett, who trained the gelding and campaigned him in partnership with Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners (Sol Kumin).
“Our ultimate goal, right now, the short-term goal, is have him lead the post parade for the Whitmore,” Moquett said Tuesday morning. “That’s our goal, Doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. It just means we’re trying.”
Oaklawn announced in early September that it had renamed the Hot Springs to honor Whitmore, the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, the country’s champion male sprinter of 2020 and among the most popular and successful horses in Oaklawn history. The inaugural $200,000 Whitmore Stakes is March 19, a centerpiece of “Whitmore Day.” Oaklawn also renamed the Count Fleet barn, Whitmore’s longtime home in Hot Springs, after the gelding.
Whitmore was retired after suffering a leg injury during a fifth-place finish in the $600,000 Forego Stakes (G1) Aug. 28 at Saratoga. A chestnut son of Pleasantly Perfect, Whitmore bankrolled $4,502,350 – 88th in North American history through Tuesday – after winning 15 of 43 starts. Much of Whitmore’s best work came at Oaklawn, where he compiled a 9-6-1 record from 16 starts and earned $1,752,600. Whitmore also won Oaklawn’s signature race for older sprinters, $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), a record three times (2017, 2018 and 2020). Swift Ruler, a local star during the 1960s, is the only other horse in Oaklawn history with seven career stakes victories.
Moquett said Whitmore was sent to Rebecca Maker’s equine rehabilitation and breaking facility in Kentucky following the Forego. Whitmore has normally decompressed there the last several years before returning to Oaklawn – his winter home at every meeting since 2016 – to begin preparing for a new campaign.
Moquett said his wife/assistant Laura will be trying to re-train Whitmore for pony work, which encompasses escorting horses to and from the track during morning training hours. She was Whitmore’s regular exercise rider.
“I have no idea,” Ron Moquett said, when asked if he believed Whitmore knows he’s not running again. “This is kind of the same schedule he’s been on. We’re hoping he does. We’re going to feed him different. Obviously, he’s going to leave every day and come back.”
Moquett said Whitmore could eventually occupy his same stall in the renamed barn and be re-trained at Oaklawn or sent to more tranquil surroundings at the track’s satellite training center about 25 miles east of Hot Springs, where the trainer keeps horses. Moquett said Whitmore left Kentucky Tuesday and is now at the training center. The gelding will return to Oaklawn after Thanksgiving, Moquett said.
Whitmore was a noted bad actor at two and gelded before his first start. Although he mellowed with age, Whitmore would buck and kick before loading into the starting gate for some races.
“We couldn’t get him around the track as a 2-year-old, so he’s changed a whole lot,” Laura Moquett said the morning after Whitmore won the 2020 Count Fleet. “We can actually train him now. He’s softened his edges a little. He still has the tattoos of the barbed wire around his arm, but he has like a heart and mom on there as well now.”
Ron Moquett said Whitmore will now be going back to school, with his wife as tutor.
“Go out there and watch training,” he said. “Ride up there and sit there at the end of the day, when nobody’s around, and watch a couple of horses train and then come back home. After a while, the hope is, he understands that this is what I do. I don’t go train. Not go around kicking stuff. Laura will be on him. Laura’s horse.”
Another former Ron Moquett trainee, Meanbone, successfully transitioned to pony work following his final career start in July 2020. Meanbone, a 9-year-old Silver Train gelding, worked as Moquett’s stable pony during the 2021 Oaklawn meeting.
“We’re just going to start like we did Meanbone,” Ron Moquett said. “Remember, he’s a pony now and these other horses that we’ve re-homed and made ponies – we’re going to try to do it with Whitmore and, hopefully, it sticks.”
Moquett said his wife would be aboard Whitmore to lead the post parade for the Whitmore Stakes, which is the final major local prep for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 16. Whitmore ran second in both 6-furlong races in 2021.
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