by Teresa Genaro
A year ago this weekend, Whitmore was in Ron Moquett’s barn, figuratively nursing his wounds from a 19th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Though he’d been competitive on the Derby prep circuit at Oaklawn Park, he fizzled in the Run for the Roses, and in retrospect, majority owner Robert LaPenta says the horse “really wasn’t right.”
So he got some time off, not returning to the track until early December, when he appeared in an allowance/optional claimer at Aqueduct, a race that he won comfortably. And he hasn’t lost since, earning his fifth straight win and first in a graded stakes in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes on the Preakness undercard.
LaPenta was exultant in the winner’s circle, his face nearly unable to contain the size of his grin.
“He’s always been an incredibly talented horse,” he said. Originally a 25 percent owner of the horse, LaPenta recently bought another 5 percent. Other partners are Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners.
In the Maryland Sprint Stakes, Whitmore initially contended with the early pace, then took back under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., making a late run to win by a half-length as the 1.2-1 favorite on a track labeled good.
“I know he’s a fast horse and he’s running against very fast horses,” said Moquett. “I told (Santana) that he was on the best horse and ride him with confidence.”
Based in New York, LaPenta is thrilled with Moquett’s training job, even though it means his horse is stabled and often runs at tracks far from LaPenta’s East Coast base.
“It’s a (little hard),” he admitted, “but Ron’s done a great job. He said, ‘Let’s cut him back,’ and Whitmore is undefeated.”
LaPenta expects Whitmore to race twice more this year: once at Saratoga and then in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Though LaPenta was cagey about the Saratoga race, Whitmore’s last five wins have come at six furlongs, the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and only one race at Saratoga fits that bill, the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29.
“One more race,” he said, “and then we’re praying for the Breeders’ Cup. Right now, I think he’s the top sprinter in the country.”