By Natalie Mayrath of StreamhorseTV
StreamHorseTV’s Racehorse Retirement Planning series showcases owners and other connections who are investing in their horses’ lives beyond racing and explore the financial planning that enables safe and stable long-term solutions for transition into retirement and second careers.
From sale reject, to problem child, to the unlikeliest of champions, Whitmore took his connections and fans on an illustrious journey, winning at the top level for a remarkable six years and capturing hearts through his final race in August 2021. His humans weigh in on their horse of a lifetime’s impact, inspiration, next chapters, and how finding the right match is a crucial part of successful retirement.
Ron Moquett typed two words: “Buy him.”
He had no idea that this simple text message would alter the course of his career — and life. But Moquett knew he’d seen something special in the stunner of a photo he’d just received. “If you saw that picture that got sent to me, it is amazing,” he says.
The unraced 2-year-old named Pleasant Mel (by Pleasantly Perfect) had been pulled from the sale after refusing to breeze, but the photo said it all. “I immediately called the consignor who is a very good horseman,” he recounts. Moquett was told the horse was “a maniac, he’s crazy […] you’ll have your hands full if you buy him.”
Crazy or not, Moquett knew he had to have him, so he arranged a private sale for $37,000, promptly renaming the horse Whitmore after his high school basketball teammate Wilbur Whitmore, who possessed a natural, God-given athletic ability similar to what the trainer saw in the horse.
Over the next six years, Whitmore took his human team on the ride of a lifetime, including a spot in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, then a pivot into the sprint division where he displayed gutsy dominance year after year, including four Breeders’ Cup appearances. It culminated in a 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory on his fourth attempt, which vaulted him to the 2020 Eclipse Sprint Champion title at the ripe age of 7 years old.
Moquett says his favorite memory of Whitmore came in the Count Fleet at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, when Moquett had just gotten out of the hospital and was stuck watching at his house near the half-mile pole. “I wasn’t feeling really well and I was staying close to the couch,” he says, but when the TV coverage of the race got preempted, he stepped to the front porch, where a cluster of trees blocked his view of the track. When the crowd went wild, he knew Whitmore had won, without ever seeing a stride of the race. “You could hear when he made the lead, it was deafening […] No one was screaming over there for another horse, that was Whitmore’s scream,” Ron remembers.
“What I got from that and what he taught me, is that one horse can take thousands for a ride […] They can carry us all, not just one, but all of us.”
CHARTING WHITMORE’S NEXT ADVENTURE
When Laura and Ron speak of Whitmore, emotions of love, pride, and devotion are palpable, as if they are discussing one of their own children. They are in good spirits upon Whitmore’s retirement; Ron is relieved that he exited soundly, and Laura is eager to continue riding him as they aim for the Hunters division of the 2022 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. Whitmore’s antics, including his tendency to kick vigorously with his hind end, preclude him from candidacy as a lead pony, will undoubtedly carry over into his retraining for a second career. “I’m in so much trouble,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve let him do whatever he wanted for six years, and now I’m going to try getting him to do what I want. I don’t know if it’s going to work,” she says.
Laura knew early on that Whitmore would remain in their care during retirement, with the cooperation of co-owners Robert La Penta and Head of Plains Racing. After all, he was their Derby horse, Breeders’ Cup horse, and top earner. But, Laura says, it wasn’t just because the horse earned his keep. “I’m certain that on the racetrack, Whitmore would fall through the cracks anywhere else, and off the track he would fall even faster,” she explains. “If a horse gets you to the Derby […] they deserve to have somewhere to lay their head down at night,” she says. “But he’s so difficult in his brain […] he would have to stay with us (regardless),” she says.
Laura is uniquely qualified to sit on racehorses in the morning and retrain them for other equine sports by night. Her dual talents make the Moquett team very capable stewards of their horses into their next “forever homes” beyond the racetrack. Laura is a willing and able rider, trainer, and judge of character, which might be the most crucial element in determining a retiree’s future.
Track Laura and Whitmore’s progress on StreamHorseTV’s Retraining Goals series over the next several months.