Ron Moquett had a special guest in the winner's circle at Pimlico Saturday after Firecrow's surprise victory in the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint.
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman posed for pictures along with Moquett, who trains the winner, a 5-year-old Maclean's Music gelding, for Robert LaPenta and Harlow Stables LLC.
"I guess he's a fan of horse racing," said Moquett, a UA graduate from Greenwood. "It was good to have a Hog around."
Winning by a neck under Joel Rosario, Firecrow set a track record for five furlongs on turf in 55.30 seconds, paying $21.60 in his first victory in seven races since Feb. 14, 2020, at Oaklawn. A maiden winner at Pimlico on the 2019 Preakness undercard, Firecrow made his 14th career start but just his third on grass and first since November 2019.
"We were just waiting," Moquett said. "We thought he was very good on the turf. But they don't have any lawn at Oaklawn, and we weren't shipping all the way to Fair Grounds from there when the purses are so much better at Oaklawn. ... We figured we'd get back around to it, and today was the day. It showed he belonged."
Pressing the pace set by Luis Saez aboard 8-5 favorite The Critical Way, Firecrow got up from outside in the late going, winning under a hand ride, according to the Equibase footnote.
Moquett entered Firecrow as a "rabbit" for champion Whitmore in the $200,000 Hot Springs March 21, his most recent start. Second in an Feb. 26 optional claimer at Oaklawn, Firecrow finished fourth, beaten six lengths, as C Z Rocket, by a neck, snapped Whitmore's streak of four consecutive victories in the sprint stake. C Z Rocket, claimed at Oaklawn last year for $40,000 by trainer Peter Miller, later denied Whitmore's bid for a fourth Count Fleet Sprint Handicap victory in a one-two Grade 3 finish April 10.
Hollis, an April 22 Oaklawn winner for trainer John Alexander Ortiz, finished seventh of 13 in the McKay Turf Sprint, named for the late ABC Sports announcer who considered Baltimore his home and was instrumental in conceiving and launching the Maryland Million in 1986.
Whitmore, said Moquett, is in training for the Grade 3 True North at six furlongs June 4 at New York's Belmont Park. Whitmore has run three times in the race, placing second in 2018 and third in 2017. LaPenta and Moquett are co-owners of the 8-year-old gelding, whose Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint victory at Keeneland last year brought him an Eclipse Award.
"We want to win these kinds of races on these kinds of days," Moquett said. "It helps my owners. It helps my career. It helps the barn. We want to win big races on big days, and races that matter. Win percentage doesn't mean anything if you can't win the big ones."