Robert LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners' Whitmore had a great head bob at the wire to win Friday's Grade 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix by a nose at odds of 3-1. The 4-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect, ridden by Manny Franco, broke from the widest post in the 11-horse field, stayed wide around the turn and came with a determined late run to just nose out 16-1 frontrunner Awesome Banner for the victory. Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore earned an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, covering six furlongs over Keeneland's fast main track in 1:09.90. The favorite (5-2) Limousine Liberal finished third.
“I'm very proud for him,” said Moquett. “He's an awesome horse. I'm glad he got to show it today.”
Awesome Banner left from the rail spot and immediately started battling for the lead, pulling away to a full length's advantage to clock the first quarter in :22.27. He was tracked by longshots Mr. Manning and Seventh Sense, while a slow-breaking Threefiveindia made up significant ground at the rail down the backstretch. Whitmore was held three or four paths off the rail in fifth, never more than four lengths off the leader.
Rounding the far turn, Awesome Banner still had a length's advantage after a half-mile in :45.75. He refused to give in as the field began to line up behind him approaching the stretch.
Whitmore got a clear run, though wide, around the turn, and drew alongside Awesome Banner's saddle towel by the eighth pole. The frontrunner fought back valiantly, but Franco was able to coax just a bit more out of Whitmore. With an elegantly-timed run, Whitmore put his nose down first at the wire, a whisker or two in front of Awesome Banner when it mattered most. Limousine Liberal came flying late to score third over Threefiveindia.
“He broke sharp,” said Franco. “Ron and I spoke before the race. I was 2-3 lengths behind. When I made my move, he was game. Never give up. Still running. We did it.”
Bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis, Whitmore was originally a contender on the Kentucky Derby trail before being turned back to sprint distances. His first graded stakes win came in the one-turn Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn, and took down the Maryland Sprint before finishing disappointing thirds in both the True North and De Francis Dash.
Moquett has the chestnut gelding back on track with the Phoenix win, and he may be aimed at the Breeders' Cup Sprint next month at Del Mar. Overall, Whitmore has won eight of his 15 starts for earnings of over $1.5 million.
“I'm going to relish this Phoenix win,” Moquett continued. “The Breeders' Cup has been our goal. So if everything's great, we're going.”
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