06/19/2006 12:00AM

About time luck swung Moquett's way

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Ron Moquett upset the Foster with Seek Gold.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In the span of maybe 15 seconds, Ron Moquett's life and career did an about-face. That's how long it took Seek Gold to surge from last to first Saturday in an incredible 25th running of the Grade 1 at Churchill Downs.

Few trainers, if any, at Churchill had more rotten luck in the last few years than Moquett, who was saddling Seek Gold for the first time since the horse was sold last month as part of a nine-horse package to the Bowman Couch Racing Stable.

In 2005 alone, Moquett's operation suffered several major setbacks, including a barn fire, a van wreck, and an equine disease quarantine. His win percentage suffered, and he has been teetering on the brink of financial devastation.

So when Seek Gold, a 91-1 shot, got up by an inch or two to earn the $502,647 winner's share in the $844,500 Foster, well, it could not have rained in a drier spot. For Moquett, the standard 10-percent trainer's commission amounts to a bit more than a cool $50,000.

"I guess God doesn't take anything away that he's not willing to give you back," said Moquett (pronounced MO-kwett) by phone early Monday while watching his son take part in the Rick Pitino basketball camp in Louisville.

Moquett, 34, said that when he was growing up in Pocola, Okla., a western suburb of Ft. Smith, Ark., he frequently attended the races at Blue Ribbon Downs in Salisaw, Okla. But it wasn't until he was watching television one Saturday in November 1991, when Arazi won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in spectacular fashion, that Moquett decided he wanted to be part of horse racing.

"I was going to be an engineer, but from that point on, I couldn't get the business out of my system," he said.

Since then, he often has regretted his decision to become a trainer, citing the financial hardships, long hours, and endless worries. His career statistics, which date to 1997, show 195 wins from 1,872 starts, but he said his first winner came at Blue Ribbon in the mid-1990's.

"It was an Appaloosa-Quarter Horse race," he said. "The original owner had given up on the horse, and my owner bought him in a bar for like $300."

He has had several stakes-quality horses, most notably Asher, who ran in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but Moquett has struggled mightily in recent seasons, especially after the rash of misfortune last year.

"In January, I had 16 2-year-olds in a barn fire at Blue Ribbon," he said. "None of them died, but every one was ruined. Some of them had really bad injuries. Hot tar dripped down from the roof and burned off ears and put out a couple eyes. It was horrible.

"In April, I shipped my six best 2-year-olds on a van to Keeneland, and the van was in a terrible accident that killed a young boy. The van overturned, the horses were all turned upside down, and none of them has turned out to be any good.

"Then as soon as we got down to Ellis Park last summer, we got caught up in the strangles situation. We had horses ready to go for that meet, but not after that."

Over the last year or so, Moquett was befriended by Nick Zito, who was the key figure in the deal that led to the package purchase of nine horses formerly owned by one of Zito's main clients, Robert LaPenta. Moquett, who could often be seen hanging around Zito when the Hall of Fame trainer was in Kentucky this spring, said the Foster victory has given him an even deeper appreciation for Zito's friendship.

"Nick got me horses to train when I was down and out," said Moquett. "He has been so generous and so classy. Without his help, who knows where I might have been."