We talk so often of horse racing needing to try new things to bring attention to the sport. Less often, I see novel measures actually taken.
In this spirit, I tip my cap to Sunland Park and Judge Lanier Racing, for taking an affirmative step to build more buzz around an already engaging story.
This year’s Derby season has been full of surprises, and Conquest Mo Money has been one of the best. A $180,000 yearling purchase by Conquest Stables, Conquest Mo Money sold to owner Judge Lanier Racing for the downright larcenous price of $8,500 at Keeneland November last year, as part of the Conquest dispersal. At that point, the son of Uncle Mo was an unraced two-year-old.
After proving himself to be the top Sunland-based sophomore by a pole, Conquest Mo Money proved Saturday that he belongs in Kentucky Derby conversation. He shipped to Arkansas, did much of the dirty work in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and just failed to hold off champion Classic Empire. That gave him more than enough points for the first Saturday in May.
Even so, the Derby trail’s best underdog story is also the Derby trail’s most suspenseful cliffhanger this side of the actual race: will he actually run?
After all, Conquest Mo Money was not nominated to the Kentucky Derby, and even the late nomination period for the Triple Crown (fee: $6,000) had passed before the Sunland Derby. Thus, it will cost him $200,000 to supplement into the Triple Crown. If his connections had Derby Dreams, shipping to Arkansas was the smart move. The supplement fee was the same after the Sunland Derby as after Arkansas, and Arkansas is typically a better bellwether of success in Kentucky than the Land of Enchantment.
This, finally, leads me to why I’m tipping my cap to Sunland, to Judge Lanier, to anyone who took part in making the idea of this press conference tomorrow a reality.
Whether they had made the decision on Saturday or not, the connections didn’t declare their Derby plans (or non-plans) in a post race interview. Even now, it would be easy enough for Conquest Mo Money’s connections to call a writer to break the story, break the story themselves on social media, or even reach out to Sunland Park and have them do a written press release. In all of those cases, it would be written, shared, known. The suspense would be over.
Instead? Sunland Park sent out a release today, announcing a press conference tomorrow at 1pm MDT where Tom McKenna of Judge Lanier Racing will discuss Conquest Mo Money’s future plans.
It sounds so simple. But, how often in horse racing do they call an in-person press conference for an announcement? Press conferences are things that happen after the Derby, after the Million, after the Breeders’ Cup. I would even agree that draw ceremonies before big races become de facto press conferences.
But, a press conference to announce whether a horse will supplement to the Derby? I love it.
It’s unconventional. It draws attention to a racing circuit from which Derby contenders rarely hail. And, whether Conquest Mo Money ends up going to Kentucky or not, this move draws even more anticipation to the decision, the horse, the connections, and Sunland Park.
After all, the Kentucky Derby news cycle is at a perfect place for a press conference like this. Points races are over, and final Derby preparations have yet to begin. The track and the horse’s connections have nothing to lose in calling it, and plenty of publicity and enthusiasm to gain.