a few more thoughts on Conquest Mo Money

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.

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welcome back, Cat’s Alley!

As the sun set over the clubhouse turn at Hawthorne on March 11, 2016, I remarked to myself that if Hawthorne were still running the Land of Lincoln Stakes, the sprint for Illinois-bred sophomores, I had my horse.  Debut runner Cat’s Alley had just won an Illinois-bred maiden special weight in impressive and professional manner.  The gelded son of Flower Alley took the early lead, relinquished it to Fast Punchnrichie, came back after that foe looked gone, and drew off to thrash older foes by daylight.

Cat’s Alley, unsaddled after a winning debut.

Alas, Hawthorne did not run the Land of Lincoln in 2016, so he did not return in that spot.  I expected him to return in a one-other-than allowance, either state-bred or open, to test his mettle against winners.  Perhaps, if he liked the polytrack, he could turn up in the Springfield Stakes across town in a few months?

Instead, he turned up three weeks later for a claiming tag.

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making the most of the Conquest Mo Money story

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.

Conquest Mo Money gallops clear of Irap to win the Mine That Bird Derby.  (Photo Credit: Coady Photography)

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finally, a three-year-old standout!

In an event atypical of this spring’s racing season, a three-year-old finally brought some clarity.  I have complete confidence in putting a three-year-old at the top of my list — for the first time since Classic Empire bombed in the Holy Bull (G2).

Still, the top slot does not return to last year’s champion two-year-old male.  His Arkansas Derby (G1) was solid, a testament to Mark Casse’s training acumen and a suggestion that Classic Empire can once again find top-flight form.  Despite the roadblocks between the Holy Bull and the Arkansas Derby, he has once again marked himself a contender.  But, a clear standout?  That’s going too far after his issues, after his getting only two Derby preps spaced so far apart.  No, Classic Empire is not the source of my clarity.

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a long-awaited Act

There are at least as many reasons to follow a horse as there are people who come to the racetrack.  Most of those reasons are happy ones.  Their name makes you laugh.  You own the horse, or your friend does.  They have a funny little spot on their nose.  They gave you a cute little look, right in the eyes, from the post parade one day.  You followed their sire, their dam, their sibling.

But, not every reason for following a horse is happy.

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a story, forever unfinished

The Davona Dale Stakes is coming up this Saturday.  Just like last year, and the year before…it makes me sad.

Heading into the serious prep season in 2014, I had two horses in particular who I kept picking against, and who kept making me look like a fool.  Out west, I had California Chrome.  In the three years between then and now, we all got to know California Chrome well.  He got the chance to write his story, a story which will see his name enshrined in the Hall of Fame in five years’ time.

Out east, I had Onlyforyou.

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an old friend, still with me

On March 26, 2014, I was a horse racing neophyte.  Having followed the sport closely for less than a year by that point, I had far more enthusiasm than knowledge or sense.  (One could say that is still the case, though hopefully the gap has narrowed over the last few years.)

That enthusiasm led me to volunteer to do Jim Vs. — once a week, a fan would go on the pre-race show with Jim Miller, discuss their picks, and have a friendly little handicapping competition.  I knew I had jumped in over my head, but I’ve always liked public speaking…so I could do my homework, deliver my picks with confidence, and hope for the best.

The opener proved the perfect metaphor for the day:  Jim beat me as soundly as Divine Delivery beat Sgt. Green in the day’s first race.  In that race, a $17,500 maiden claimer, he sided with 4/5 favourite Divine Delivery.  I took my shot with second betting choice Sgt. Green…who finished second, beaten 18 1/2 lengths.  That’s how most of my day went: I kept looking for cute ways to beat the chalk, and I kept falling short.

In one race, however, I took an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude toward the favourite.

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Picks and Ponderings: Life, Death, and Words

Tonight was ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooz-Hour: everyone at ChicagoNow gets a topic, and we have an hour to write to that topic and publish a post.  Tonight’s topic?

“Write about a book or publication that is special to you or has had a big impact on your life.”

One piece came to mind.  As much as I wanted to write about…anything else, anything less catastrophic, anything less sad, I couldn’t do it.  The piece of horse racing writing that comes to my mind more than any other is not a happy one, but this topic compelled me to write about it.

ranking Classic Empire

For the first few weeks of the NTRA three-year-old poll, Classic Empire sat atop.  The first ballot came before the Holy Bull.  After his flat third the Holy Bull, most voters dropped him from the top slot…but I kept him on top.  Yes, Irish War Cry was sharp in victory, and McCraken picked right up where he left off when he won the Sam Davis.  Even with these talented contenders, Classic Empire’s two-year-old year was so good that he deserved a mulligan.

But, word came out within the last week that his foot abscess hadn’t healed up yet, and Classic Empire would miss the Fountain of Youth as a result.

Was I willing to give him another one?  I had to sleep on it.

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