The 4-year-old Whitmore had the look of the best sprinter in the Midwest at Oaklawn Park this winter and spring. Now he can make a case as the best sprinter in America as he takes on the accomplished A.P. Indian in Saturday's $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3) at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Churchill Downs-based trainer Ron Moquett was torn between running Whitmore on Saturday's undercard of the 142nd Preakness Stakes (G1) or waiting for the Truth North (G2) June 9 in New York, which was the original plan.
But the exercise rider – Moquett's wife, Laura – said the horse needed to run ASAP. Signaling his readiness, Whitmore worked in 46.40 seconds for a half-mile under former jockey Greta Kunzweiler Sunday at Churchill, the fastest of 59 workouts at the distance. That was his “easy” half-mile.
“I'd say in reality the work was like a 47 and [four-fifths], but the time doesn't matter,” Moquett said Monday at Churchill. “It's the fact that he comes out of the stall in the afternoon after doing that kind of work and is bucking and kicking — all those things that horse trainers like to see and hold their breath when it happens. He's so ‘ripe' that it's time to run.”
Whitmore has shown that there is life after the Kentucky Derby, his last defeat coming five races back when he finished 19th of 20 in that race. Getting seven months off, the son of Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Pleasantly Perfect started his current four-race streak with a second-level allowance race in New York. In Arkansas, Whitmore won a six-furlong allowance in 1:08.81 to miss the track record by a hundredth of a second, took the Hot Springs Stakes by six lengths and captured the Count Fleet (G3) by 3 ¾ lengths. He's now undefeated in six tries at six or 6 ½ furlongs.
“I'm partial, but I would say he is [the best sprinter],” Moquett said. “And a lot of people I respect, if I didn't say so, they would tell me. I've never been in the position to where someone has come up to me and said, ‘That might be the most impressive race I've seen at Oaklawn.'”
Whitmore was no bad horse racing around two turns, finishing second in the 2016 Southwest (G3) and Rebel (G2) and third in the Arkansas Derby (G1) to earn his Kentucky Derby shot.
“We're trying to develop him into the horse that can make the most money,” Moquett said. “As a 3-year-old, you have no shot to make good money as a sprinter. They were beating me up on the radio [about running Whitmore long last year]. He only made $463,000 in six starts. It's not like he didn't run well.
“I didn't like the way he came out of the Kentucky Derby, stiff everywhere. That's one of the reasons I've kept him short,” he added. “Obviously he's good at it. But the other reason is it's so easy on him. He comes back and has caught his breath before he gets to the test barn. When he runs a mile and an eighth, he's still finishing strong but he was tired. It's taxing on him.”
Ricardo Santana Jr. has the mount on Whitmore, who will van to Baltimore Tuesday along with the Moquett-trained Our Majesty for the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) and Torrent for the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2), both Friday.
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