One of my favourite stories of the Triple Crown prep season ended up having very little to do with the Kentucky Derby: that of Conquest Mo Money. The son of Uncle Mo, an $8,500 Keeneland November bargain for owner Judge Lanier Racing, emerged as the top Sunland Park-based three-year-old this spring. He beat eventual Blue Grass Stakes (G2) winner Irap in the Mine That Bird Derby. He held his own in the Sunland Derby (G3), finishing second behind Hence after being closer to a blazing pace. Then, he shipped to Arkansas and proved he wasn’t just a Sunland wonder. Conquest Mo Money was right up on a contested pace in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and in a race that set up so nicely for off-pace types, he was just barely passed by Classic Empire. Still, second place was good enough to give him a shot in the Derby if he wanted it.
Instead, at a press conference after the Arkansas Derby, Tom McKenna of Judge Lanier Racing announced that Conquest Mo Money would bypass the Kentucky Derby and go to the Preakness instead. At first blush, it was a disappointment.
But, the more I thought about it, the more brilliant the move sounded. Conquest Mo Money had already run in two “final” preps spaced three weeks apart, with three 2017 races before that. Going to the Preakness was the best of both worlds. It would give him a chance against Triple Crown horses, something his class merits. But, it would also give him five weeks off after the Arkansas Derby, not just three.
Though the Sunland Derby horses didn’t shine in the Kentucky Derby (Hence was a tough-trip 11th; Irap crossed the wire a distant 18th), the Arkansas Derby horses between whom Conquest Mo Money finished fared better. Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire finished a tough-trip 4th in the Run for the Roses. Lookin at Lee, 3rd in Oaklawn’s final prep, rolled up the rail to finish 2nd on Saturday. That speaks well for Conquest Mo Money, who finished between them, especially given how much of the pace work Conquest Mo Money had done in Arkansas.
So now, Conquest Mo Money is settled at Prairie Meadows, working toward the Preakness. He shipped to Iowa after the Arkansas Derby. I’m curious how that works out. I would have loved to see him stay at Sunland, given the altitude training aspect at play there. But, on the other hand, it’s also a shorter ship from Prairie to Pimlico than Sunland to Pimlico, which may help as the race approaches. Furthermore, Conquest Mo Money’s regular rider Jose Carreno is riding at Prairie right now.
Today’s development related to Carreno. Jay Privman of the DRF confirmed that he will keep his regular leg up on Conquest Mo Money for the Preakness. At first blush, it seems a little scary to give the Preakness call to a rider who has just one graded stakes win to his name (the 2012 Canadian Derby (G3) at Northlands), a rider who has been riding mainly in New Mexico, Arizona, and Minnesota over the last few years.
From a human interest perspective, keeping Carreno in the irons is great — it’s loyalty.
But, from a more nuts-and-bolts perspective, more relevant to handicapping, there is also a lot to like. Carreno knows the horse better than anyone. He has been in the irons for every one of Conquest Mo Money’s starts. He has also proven already that he could keep his cool under the big spotlight. After all, he came out to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby, and guided Conquest Mo Money to a strong second-place finish.
What chances will Conquest Mo Money have in the Preakness? I’m reserving final judgment until the field coalesces, the posts are drawn, and the weather can be forecasted with confidence. But, the son of Uncle Mo has been strong all year, and his connections are managing him thoughtfully.