Grade 3 Winner Background returns in tough allowance sprint
Hot Springs, Ark. – Roughly a year after Whitmore was named an Eclipse Award winner, Moquett reached another career milestone when he saddled Kinfolk to win last Sunday’s ninth race at Oaklawn.
Kinfolk represented Moquett’s 900th Thoroughbred victory, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Ridden by apprentice Kylee Jordan, Kinfolk ($27.20) came from off the pace to capture the sprint for $35,000 Arkansas-bred maiden-claiming sprinters by 1 ½ lengths over stablemate and heavily favored Kilgore.
Moquett, under his Southern Springs Stables banner, owns Kinfolk and bred the blazed-faced 3-year-old gelded son of Just a Coincidence in partnership with Bennie Westphal.
“It’s a fun little face because he’s going to make a great pony when he’s done running,” Moquett said moments after the race. “That was neat.”
Kinfolk was making his second career start after finishing third in his Oct. 1 debut at Remington Park. Moquett recorded his 899th career Thoroughbred victory earlier on last Sunday’s card when Woohoo Jackie Blue ($26.20) won her career debut in the seventh race under Ramon Vazquez.
Moquett, 50, grew up near Fort Smith, Ark., and started his first Thoroughbred in 1997 at nearby Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., according to Equibase. The purse was $3,250. Blue Ribbon, a tiny Thoroughbred/Quarter-Horse pari-mutuel facility, is now shuttered.
Moquett saddled his first Thoroughbred winner in 1998, according to Equibase, and reached the sport’s pinnacle when Whitmore captured the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in 2020 at Keeneland and was named the country’s champion male sprinter that year. Whitmore represented the first Breeders’ Cup winner and Eclipse Awards winner for Moquett.
Kinfolk was Moquett’s 11th victory at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting and 288th overall in Hot Springs. Moquett also co-owned Whitmore, who shares the Oaklawn record for career stakes victories by a horse with seven.
Moquett has 900 Thoroughbred victories from 7,205 starters and purse earnings of $33,475,073 in his career, according to Equibase.
Grade 3 winner Background is scheduled to make his 2022 debut in Sunday’s eighth race, a 5 ½-furlong allowance event for older horses.
Trainer Mike Puhich said Tuesday morning that he’s using race as a stepping stone to the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses April 2. Background already is a Grade 3 winner at that distance after claiming the $100,000 Longacres Mile Handicap Aug. 15 at Emerald Downs near Seattle in his last start. The Longacres Mile is the biggest race in the Pacific Northwest.
Background received a break following the Longacres Mile before returning to the work tab in December at the immaculate Pegasus Training & Rehabilitation Center near Seattle. Background recorded a swift 5-furlong workout (:59.80) in advance of his 5-year-old debut Feb. 10 at Oaklawn.
“We need to get a race in him,” Puhich said. “He ran a good sprint the first time we ran him.”
Background, at odds of 38-1, finished a fast-closing third at 6 furlongs in his January 2020 career debut at Oaklawn before breaking his maiden at 1 1/16 miles about three weeks later. Background finished ninth in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds later in 2020 and captured two lucrative allowance races – both at a mile – during the 2021 Oaklawn meeting before finishing second, beaten a head by Guest Suite, in the $100,000 Hanshin Cup Stakes June 26 at Arlington Park.
Overall in 2021, Background compiled a 3-2-1 record in seven starts and bankrolled $208,536. His only other career victory to date, outside Oaklawn, came in the Longacres Mile.
Regular rider Rocco Bowen has the return call on Background, who is scheduled to break from post 3 in the projected seven-horse field. Bowen won 12 races in his Oaklawn debut at the 2021 meeting but is wintering at Tampa Bay Downs this season after having an opportunity to ride first call for Godolphin Stable.
After relocating to the Midwest in 2020, Bowen recorded his first career Oaklawn victory aboard Background last February and added another aboard the Khozan gelding in April. The purses were $88,000 and $106,000, respectively.
“I’m very much excited to reunite with my boy, Background,” Bowen said in a text message Wednesday.
Puhich, a native of Washington state, also won the Longacres Mile in 2012 with Taylor Said. Background represented the first career graded stakes victory and first Longacres Mile victory for Bowen, who was Emerald Downs’ leading rider in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before a severe arm injury threatened his career. Bowen, overcome with emotion following the Longacres Mile, is clearly anxious to climb aboard his favorite ride again, Puhich said.
“He already bought his plane ticket like six months ago,” Puhich, jokingly, said.
Background is owned by Bob Rondeau and his wife, Molly (Giddyup Stables). Bob Rondeau retired in 2017 as the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the University of Washington football team.
Background is 12-1 on the morning line for Sunday’s eighth race, which has a $101,000 purse. Also entered are No Shirt No Shoes, County Final, Chipofftheoldblock, Mojo Man, Boldor and Hollis.
Boldor won the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters in 2021 at Oaklawn. Hollis set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance romp and is the 5-2 program favorite.
Probable post time for Sunday’s eighth race is 4:39 p.m. (Central).
Newly minted Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen teamed for two victories Sunday, including the opener with heavily favored Tap for Me ($3.20), who broke her maiden by 4 ¼ front-running lengths in her two-turn debut. Tap for Me is a 4-year-old daughter of super sire Tapit and champion Groupie Doll.
Heavily favored Gar Hole ($3.80) became the meet’s second three-time winner with a four-length victory in Sunday’s fourth race for Arkansas-bred sprinters. John Ortiz, who trains Gar Hole for breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, said he was using race as a prep for the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters March 5.
Apprehend, the first Oaklawn winner sired by the late champion Arrogate, has been sent home because of a minor knee issue, trainer Rene Amescua said Tuesday morning. Apprehend, a 3-year-old colt, broke his maiden Dec. 31 after previously being based in Southern California. He is from Arrogate’s first crop.
Secret Oath, the top 3-year-old filly on the grounds, is scheduled to work Friday morning, weather permitting, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday morning. Secret Oath is pointing for the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. She has won her two starts at the meet, including the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29, by a combined 15 ½ lengths. Post positions for the Honeybee, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Oaks points race, will be drawn Monday. The race closed Feb. 11 with 40 nominations.
Apprentice Kylee Jordan scored her second victory of the meeting in last Sunday’s ninth race aboard Kinfolk ($27.20) for owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Kinfolk marked the fifth mount for Jordan since she suffered a dislocated shoulder in a Dec. 19 spill. She resumed riding Jan. 28.
Oaklawn surpassed $6 million claims at the meeting last Sunday (Day 26), with 273 totaling $6,110,000.
First post for Monday’s special Presidents Day program is 1 p.m. (Central). Oaklawn baseball caps will be given away (while supplies last) after Monday’s fourth race. Fans can redeem the caps (one per voucher) at the north end of the grandstand, near the Beer Garden on the first floor. Gates open Monday at 11 a.m.
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates (edited)
Photo: Kinfolk brings home Ron Moquett’s 900th win/Coady Photography