Champion sprinter Whitmore, an ornery gelding who gave his fans six years of thrills and his immediate connections memories to last a lifetime, has been retired from racing.
The 8-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect finished fifth of eight Aug. 28 in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, a race he won in 2018. But he was vanned off after jockey Joel Rosario pulled him up out of an abundance of caution.
"He walked sound into the stall, he's standing square and sound right now, and he's comfortably eating his hay," trainer Ron Moquett reported Saturday afternoon. "There was a little something that could be a possible injury that we're having Dr. (Larry) Bramlage look at. It wouldn't be career-ending, but for us, at his advanced age, what does he owe us?
"Whenever we find out for sure exactly, I'll say what it is. There's definitely something and he has some inflammation, but sometimes these things show up better in two or three days."
Whitmore became part of the Moquett family when the trainer bought him from John Liviakis, who bred him in Kentucky out of the Scat Daddy mare Melody's Spirit. Laura Moquett, Ron's wife and assistant trainer, has ridden him since he entered the barn as a 2-year-old and joked a few weeks before the Forego that after six years, she's "almost got him rideable." Their kids call the talented chestnut their brother.
"There's an old saying that certain horses define your life, and even if the good Lord and the racing gods decide to give me another champion and we win the Kentucky Derby or even the Triple Crown, that would be great, but there will never be another Whitmore," said Moquett. "I think there are a lot of trainers and horsemen out there that feel the same way I do about a particular horse.
"He's not the first one I had that won a grade 1, or that won a race that mattered, but to say he's special is an understatement."
When Whitmore broke his maiden at first asking in November of 2015, Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum picked up shares. While Rosenblum bowed out nine starts later, Head of Plains Partners joined the party in 2017 to form the trio that raced Whitmore through the rest of his career.
The gelding campaigned and was no slouch on the 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby, running second in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and Grade 2 Rebel Stakes that year and third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. After running 19th of 20 in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, however, he was cut back to distances that put his utmost talent on display at the highest levels.
A five-race win streak followed that Kentucky Derby loss, including his first listed score in the 2017 Hot Springs Stakes, his first graded score in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, and the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes. He returned to defend his title in the Hot Springs from 2018-20, and won the Count Fleet again in 2018 and 2020. He added the Grade 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes in late 2017 and broke through at the highest level the following year when he won the Forego.
His crowning achievement was a rallying win in the 2020 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland, where he defeated the likes of grade 1 winners C Z Rocket, Firenze Fire, Yaupon, and Echo Town. It was a win that helped secure his Eclipse Award, as he was named champion male sprinter upon the conclusion of the 2020 season.
While the Breeders' Cup Sprint proved to be his final victory, Whitmore ran competitively in 2021, finishing second in the Hot Springs and Count Fleet and third in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Stakes Presented by Ford and Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap before his Forego effort.
From 43 starts, Whitmore finished among the top four in 31 stakes, 25 of them graded, eight of them grade 1s. He retires with a 15-13-5 record and earnings of $4,502,350.
Whitmore developed a loyal fan following over the years, especially on social media, where the Moquett family shared stories of his antics.
There was the gelding's penchant for acting up at the gate before a race, yet schooling like an angel: "For those wondering, Whitmore schooled in the gates this morning like a perfect gentleman and does not understand why we asked him to practice this task," the Moquetts' son Chance shared on Twitter.
Then there was the last time Whitmore ran without a microchip, in the Jul. 31 Vanderbilt: "My favorite Whitmore story just happened," Chance tweeted. "Horse ID came to confirm with the chip reader. We had to tell them he was too old for that, and they’d need to check the tattoo." Whitmore got his microchip a few days later.
From her spot in the saddle every morning, Laura Moquett developed an understanding with the gelding, adjusting to accommodate his personality and channel his tough nature into success.
"He has a lot of quirks," she told BloodHorse in an Aug. 5 exclusive for BH+. "He's a little bit defensive so you always have to make allowances for that and not make him feel trapped, and then he's pretty easy to work with once he feels like he's in control.
"He went through the ranks, through the Derby and then came back as a sprinter, came back from an injury, there's all sorts of things that make him relatable," she added. "When Whitmore has a lot of people around or anybody with a camera, he totally looks at them and shows off for that situation, but when you're in the stall with him, middle of the day when nobody's around, he's actually really sweet."
Moquett said his heart dropped at the sign of the stable favorite heading onto the equine ambulance Saturday.
"As horse trainers our job is to protect our horse from injury, and whenever a horse is very sound and you see that scene, it's horrifying," he said. "My job is first and foremost to take care of the horse, so we took care of the horse and made sure he was OK."
Moquett said he turned his phone off to focus on the situation at hand, then was met with an outpouring of support when he turned it back on.
"Whenever we knew he didn't have to go to emergency surgery and he was going to be OK to stay in his stall while we figure it out and all of that, I needed to notify the owners," he said. "I wanted to make sure whatever I told my partners was up to date and accurate so I waited about 12-15 minutes. When I turned the phone on there were so many texts and Twitter messages and Facebook messages that it jammed my phone, so I think it's safe to say that me and my family and the owners and the staff are not the only lives he has touched.
"Not just mine, but a lot of people's lives are better because of Whitmore."
Whitmore has been considered a candidate for the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover, the largest Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world for recently-retired ex-racehorses. Moquett said future plans will be determined after the gelding undergoes a thorough examination at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington where Bramlage, an internationally recognized equine orthopedic surgeon, practices.
"After discussion with my wife and the other owners, it doesn't matter if the vets said he could definitely still run—we're not willing to risk it," Moquett said. "We're just going to send him to have Bramlage go over him real good, and if there's anything that would help him be a better pasture horse or RRP project, that's what we'll do."