In prior years, Michael Stidham, who finished sixth in the trainer standings at the recently concluded Fair Grounds meet, would send a division to Arlington Park and to Lone Star Park. This year, the 51-year-old native of Neptune, New Jersey, will be sending a division of about 40 horses to Arlington Park and a string of about 20 horses to Delaware Park.
Stidham decided to send a string to the East Coast because a former client was bought out.
“We had always been at Arlington, which we will continue,” said Stidham, who saddled his first career winner in 1979. “We will have 46 horses at Arlington. We have been going there for the last eight or so years. Normally, we had a second string at Lone Star Park. This year, the only reason we did not go back to Lone Star was because Darley bought out Stonerside Stable, and we always had a pretty big string of Texas-breds that would go to Lone Star. Since there is no longer a Texas string, it did not make a lot sense for us to go back to Lone Star. So, we were looking for a different avenue, and we thought testing the waters on the East Coast was the thing to do.”
Stidham had plenty of options on the East Coast, but he chose Delaware Park because he has heard about the horse-friendly reputation.
“We liked Delaware because it has a natural setting to train horses,” he said. “The open spaces, the trees and the large grassy areas were all very appealing to us.”
Stidham notched his first career stake winner with Me Good Man in the Independence Stakes at Louisiana Downs in 1980. He won his first Grade I stake with Two Altazano in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park in 1994. Stidham won his 1,000th career race with Exoteric at Sam Houston Park on February 1, 2008.
Ron Moquett, who has enjoyed success in Arkansas and Kentucky, decided to move his entire operation to the East Coast because he favors running his horses on dirt tracks instead of the synthetic surfaces in Kentucky.
“Our first horse arrived on Tuesday,” said Moquett, who finished the recently concluded Oaklawn Park meet with a record of 10 wins, 21 seconds and 13 thirds from 111 starters. “We will have a full barn of 32 horses. I would normally go to Keeneland and Churchill after Oaklawn Park, but I wanted to get away from the synthetic surfaces in Kentucky. I am just a proponent for good old dirt. With the exception of Churchill and the abbreviated Ellis meet, for the most part Kentucky is polytrack. If you want to ship, you can ship to Arlington, but that is synthetic as well. I have done very well in Kentucky and I love everybody back there and everybody is good to me, but I just wanted to try to go somewhere where there is lots of good old conventional dirt horse racing. I know some other trainers are coming to Delaware for the same reason.”
The 37-year-old native of Fort Smith, Arkansas, found Delaware Park appealing for other reasons as well.
“Delaware really fits into my schedule,” said Moquett, who learned the craft of conditioning equine athletes from veteran Bernie Flint. “I can run from May through November at Delaware Park and then ship back to Oaklawn in the winter. It is just a really good fit for me. Also, I have always wanted to try racing on the East Coast to see how we would do. We are optimistic that we will fit in and that our horses will do well there for our clients. The final reason is Larry Jones. Larry and I are pretty good friends, and one day last year, over a steak dinner, he sold me on Delaware Park. He pretty much convinced me that Delaware Park would be the right fit for me and my horses.”
Moquett, a former Tough Man Fighter, opened his own stable in 1996 at Oaklawn Park. In 2006, he won his first Grade I stakes with Seek Gold in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.