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Moquett-trained Whitmore feted with barn

by PETE PERKINS SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | November 13, 2021 at 3:18 a.m.

HOT SPRINGS -- The barn formerly named for Count Fleet was renamed for Whitmore, an Oaklawn star and racing regular from 2015-21, on Thursday.

A 9-year-old gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore was retired hours after a fifth-place finish in the Grade I Forego Stakes led to a minor injury at Saratoga Race Course at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on Aug. 28. Moquett said Whitmore could have returned to training in time for the 2021-22 season at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, his and Whitmore's home racetrack, but he wanted to ensure a long and healthy retirement for his most successful horse to date.

Moquett and his wife Laura were at Oaklawn on Thursday to unveil the Whitmore nameplate and corresponding plaque on the barn previously named for Count Fleet, the winner of racing's 1943 Triple Crown and a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

"Whitmore proved that this is horse racing," Moquett said. "You know, it's not trainers or jockeys who win races. It's horses."

Whitmore finished his seven-season career at 43-15-13-5 with earnings of $4,502,350. He won a record-tying seven stakes races at Oaklawn. His four consecutive wins streak in the 6-furlong Hot Springs Stakes between 2017-20 is the longest by any horse in any stakes since Oaklawn opened in 1904.

The Hot Springs Stakes was renamed the Whitmore Stakes in September.

In 2020, Whitmore won the Grade I six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. He earned the Eclipse Award as the 2020 champion sprinter.

Whitmore, owned by Moquett, Robert LaPenta, and Head of Plains Partners, is the only horse for which a barn was renamed at Oaklawn and the first to have been stabled throughout an entire season in that barn. Moquett kept Whitmore from 2016-20. If not before, Whitmore should return to his old stable for Whitmore Day on March 18 the date scheduled for the $200,000 6-furlong Whitmore Stakes, the first celebration of Whitmore's career open to the public.

"That's cool," Moquett said. "That's going to be fun for us, but the thing is, he started out as our horse, and then he became everyone's horse. It wasn't because he was bread awesome, or cost a lot, or the trainer was well known or whatever. He had every rider who rides ride him. The main thing to everybody who liked him was that he tried. He had heart."

Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith agreed the barn was renamed to honor Whitmore, long a fan favorite at Oaklawn, but also his human connections, including sports and racing fans across Arkansas.

"You can just see on the plaque beside the name on the barn, you can see the number of races that Whitmore ran over the course of his career, and most of them were here," Smith said. "We believe that he's Arkansas' horse, and quite honestly, last year, he became America's horse. It's a perfect honor for a perfect horse and perfect connections."

Oaklawn began to name its barns for champion and Hall of Fame horses in the 1980s. Moquett, 50, has led stables at Oaklawn since 1996. He trained his first winner in 1997. When he first saw Oaklawn's barn rows as an assistant to Bernie Flint, Oaklawn's champion trainer in 1992 and 1993, Moquett said he wondered why the track gave its barns names rather than numbers.

"I thought, 'Why are these things named?' " Moquett said. " 'How are we going to find where anything is?' ''

Moquett said the idea of a barn named for a horse he trained later became a nearly unimaginable daydream.

"If you look at the great horses these barns are named after back here, you would have to be a very creative thinker to ever believe there was a possibility that you could be blessed with the opportunity," he said. "This is just amazing."

Laura Moquett said her husband's delight was clear.

"Ron was just shocked," she said. "It's something we never really imagined. We'd joke about it all the time. People have been joking about it for the last couple of years, but we never thought it would actually happen."

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