HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Whitmore continued his ascent up the class ladder as a sprinter on Saturday, dispatching of a strong field of one-turn specialists in the Grade 3, $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn. The race was the first graded stakes victory for the horse and his fourth consecutive win at one turn. Whitmore has never been beaten at a sprint distance, in fact, with a career one-turn record of 6 for 6.
"I think this is the best race he's ever run," said co-owner and winning trainer Ron Moquett. "I think he's figured out that he likes his job. I was telling my son, I think he's learning the craft of sprinting."
Whitmore ($3) was content to settle off a pressured pace set by Chief Cicatriz, who put up fractions of 21.26 seconds for the opening quarter and 43.91 for the half-mile. Whitmore advanced on the turn, moved to the lead in the stretch, then separated himself from his rivals for a 3 3/4-length win over Apprehender.
"He's a really nice horse," said winning jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. "He was in the position I wanted, from the outside, out of trouble. Turning for home, [he showed] his class."
Whitmore covered six furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.35. It was his third win at the meet, a streak that started with an optional $62,500 claiming sprint Jan. 15, and the third time he has won over the local strip in 1:08 and change. Whitmore's other win at the meet came in the $125,000 Hot Springs on March 11.
Moquett said Whitmore will now ship to Churchill Downs. He said the horse will be considered for the Grade 2, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes. The seven-eighths race is part of the Kentucky Derby card May 6.
"We'll play with him and let him tell us what to do," Moquett said. "We're going to Churchill, so we'll look there, I would say, and then this summer we'll look on the East Coast."
Whitmore was part of the Kentucky Derby trail last year. He finished second in the Southwest and Rebel stakes at Oaklawn before finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby. Moquett said before the start of the Oaklawn season that the horse could focus on sprinting this year, in part because of a smart allowance sprint win in December at Aqueduct. Whitmore has not lost since that time, picking up his fourth straight victory Saturday.
Whitmore earned $240,000 for his Count Fleet win, improving his overall record to six wins from 11 starts for earnings of $877,000. Whitmore races for Southern Springs Stables, Bob LaPenta, and Head of Plains Partners, the latter of which bought out Harry Rosenblum prior to the Count Fleet, according to Moquett.
Whitmore is a 4-year-old gelding by Pleasantly Perfect.
Holy Boss finished third in the Count Fleet.