Moquett quickly rising among ranks of country's top trainers
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) Ron Moquett's house is so close to the backside of the Oaklawn Park track that he likes to say nearby puddles ripple on race days ''like when the dinosaur is chasing them in `Jurassic Park.'''
The location is only fitting for the 44-year-old, whose training career began while living in the Oaklawn barns.
In fact, Moquett's under-construction and self-described backyard ''man cave'' - equal parts burgeoning trophy room and office - backs up to the stables at the Hot Springs track.
Moquett's living conditions have improved greatly since the time he spent his nights in the barn, but what hasn't is the care he takes with the horses he tends to - from last year's Kentucky Derby entrant Far Right to this year's Derby hopeful Whitmore.
Last year's Kentucky Derby appearance was the first for Moquett as a trainer, but if his consistent climb up the earnings list at Oaklawn is any indication, it won't be his last. The Arkansas native was 12th in 2014 and fourth a year ago, but he enters this weekend's $900,000 Rebel Stakes having earned more than $700,000 this year - second at the track behind only Steve Asmussen.
''They messed around and let me see how to get there,'' Moquett said of last year's Kentucky Derby. ''Now I'm going to try, if good God and fast horses will let me, I'll be there as much as possible.''
Moquett's rise up the ranks as a trainer began differently than many inside the often-times inclusive world of horse racing.
Raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and with the majority of his childhood racing experience limited to watching quarter horses and frequenting the nearby track at Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma, Moquett didn't have the benefit of family ties to help kickstart his career.
Really, he had very little family around at all following the death of his mother when he was 4 years old. With Moquett and his three siblings scattered because of various family ties, he spent much of his youth in foster care - armed with a quick wit and sense of humor he says was born out of his early troubles.
That, and a love of all animals.
From chickens to cows, Moquett tried his best to make a pet out of just about any animal he could find and become friendly with.
''Animals are where I got my insurance,'' Moquett said. ''I knew that they would be there. I didn't trust people, didn't like them. If you weren't my family, what was left of it, I'd just assume play with animals.''
Luckily for Moquett, the father of a friend helped fuel his passion for horses by letting him ride as a teenager, and it was another friend who vouched to get him his first job as an assistant at Oaklawn under Bernie Flint.
That's when Moquett - earning $185 per week - spent his nights in the barn. He didn't do so to save money, but rather because he ''wanted to do it all'' while caring for the horses.
It's a work ethic that's carried over to today for Moquett, who said he's never taken a vacation and subscribes to the motto of ''It's not gotta, it's get to (work).''
''I don't know if the fish are biting, I don't know what a golf score is, I don't care about anything that's not anything that's not involved with horses,'' Moquett said. ''When you're working with horses, I'm like a fat kid with a cupcake factory.''
One point of pride for Moquett is his ability to work with non-pedigree and lesser-established horses to help them exceed expectations. One of those was Far Right, who won last year's Southwest Stakes and finished second to triple-crown winner American Pharoah at the Arkansas Derby after selling for $1,500 as a yearling.
Moquett's latest underdog is Whitmore, who he bought when the ''problem child'' went unsold after refusing to work out one day. Stubbornness aside, Moquett saw a ''beautiful athlete'' who went on to win his first race as a 3-year-old and then finished second in the Southwest last month.
Moquett co-owns Whitmore with Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum, who he's worked with for roughly three years - including with Far Right.
Rosenblum has owned horses for 31 years, and he said it was his shared belief with Moquett ''to always do what was right for the horse'' that led to their partnership and friendship. That and an attention to detail in everything from training to Moquett's feed program that Rosenblum said is second to none.
''The more he knows his animal, the better he's going to be able to take care of it and the better that animal should perform,'' Rosenblum said. ''The results of (Moquett's) many years of hard work are just now coming to fruition.''