LOUISVILLE — Ron Moquett still considers himself a fan, first and foremost.
Being a horseman was a calling he couldn't shake, even if it took its toll on his college transcript. And if there is a feeling that never, ever gets old for the Arkansas native, it's being able to beat the trainers he views as idols in the sport.
On April 11, Moquett was in the Oaklawn Park test barn after the Arkansas Derby with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas on one side and Jimmy Barnes, assistant to fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, on the other. Each of their horses had just cemented a spot in the Kentucky Derby and in that moment, the man who prides himself on being hyper goal-oriented found himself tripping over reality.
"I'm very much a positive thinker and I always say, I do about anything I set my mind to," Moquett said from his Churchill Downs barn this week. "And whenever I tell everyone 'I'm going to the Kentucky Derby', they were all 'Whatever.'
"I was in the test barn at Arkansas and I was there with D. Wayne Lukas and Baffert's assistant Jimmy and I'm thinking. ... we're doing the same thing. We're all going to the same next race with the same horses. And that is huge for me."
The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is going to be massive for Moquett, even if he barely sits down long enough these days to let it compute. The 43-year-old trainer is set to saddle his first starter in a Triple Crown race in the hard-knocking, graded stakes winner Far Right.
Moquett initially went to school for architect design, but ditching classes to go to the races at Oaklawn became his education of choice. Since going out on his own in 1997, Moquett has plugged away on the Oaklawn and Kentucky circuits, racking up more than 500 career wins and 24 stakes triumphs.
When Far Right captured the Grade III Southwest Stakes this February, the ridgling son of Notional became just the third graded stakes winner Moquett had saddled.
Moquett says the key thing he has done where Far Right is concerned is heed the chestnut's desire to have a route of ground to work with.
"I think it's not so much we're getting better, as much as the distances are getting out to where we can showcase what we're doing," Moquett said. "You have a 7 foot guy and you have a crawling contest, he's not going to do as well. But then you get up to dunking a basketball, that's his sport.
"This one, whenever he's communicating to me about what he wanted to do, he was screaming he wanted to go further."
In his rowdier days, Moquett competed in Toughman competitions. In that gritty vein, Far Right is a fitting representative for his first foray into the classics.
Purchased for just $2,500 at the 2013 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages by Jon Jazdzewski, Far Right showed enough promise finishing second in his first couple starts to inspire current co-owner Harry Rosenblum to purchase him privately and later sell a percentage to Robert LaPenta.
In his first start for Moquett, a maiden test going 61/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs last September, his new conditioner told jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. to take him back and make one big run. After crossing the wire 5 lengths in front and about busting his arms trying to pull him up, Santana pulled a Babe Ruth and called Far Right's shot.
"After he gallops out and he gallops all the way around almost to the head of the stretch, Ricardo comes back and the very first thing he says to me is 'We are going to the Kentucky Derby with this horse,'" Moquett recalled. "He's never had a reason to even say those words to me because I don't do 3-year-olds, normally. And he's like, 'No, I'm telling you'.
"It was pretty cool because he's a very good judge of odds. He called it."
In a crop filled with brilliant runners like champion American Pharoah and undefeated Dortmund, Far Right offers consistency and a indefatigable closing kick.
Only once in nine career starts has Far Right been worse than third. Though no one was going to touch American Pharoah during his 8-length win in the Grade I Arkansas Derby, Far Right kept grinding under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith — who will be his pilot in the Derby — to steal second-place honors from Mr. Z after that one was 4 lengths ahead of him at one point in the stretch.
"I think (the Derby) sets up very good for us," Moquett said. "That last race was theirs and with a little good fortune, this could be ours. I always said, I don't want to just go to the Derby to show up and wear a suit or whatever. That doesn't impress me. I want to do well for my horse and my owner and the barn."