Could Conquest Mo Money Summon Mine That Bird Magic in Preakness?

Conquest Mo Money, right, led in the stretch of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and held on to finish second to champion Classic Empire. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Conquest Mo Money cost Tom and Sandy McKenna just $8,500 six months ago when they snagged him as an unraced 2-year-old out of a dispersal at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale in Kentucky.

Little did the Colorado ranch owners know they were hitching their wagons to a budding star, the first elite horse of their 13 years in Thoroughbred horse racing and one that will take them to the $1.5-million Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

To Tom McKenna, Conquest Mo Money was a nice prospect for New Mexico, where their Judge Lanier Racing is based, with the stable name as an homage to his grandfather.

His assessment proved correct in short order, as Conquest Mo Money covered his purchase price and then some with the $12,900 winner’s share of a maiden race at Sunland Park in January.

A pleasant surprise. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The big surprise is just how high Conquest Mo Money has climbed from there, beginning with an 11-length stakes win just three weeks later, followed by a decisive score in the Mine That Bird Derby and second-place finishes in both the Grade 3 Sunland Derby and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

The McKennas could have sold Conquest Mo Money for a huge profit at various points along that way, but they decided instead to enjoy the ride as the horse’s owners. They are hardly passive participants — they are both lifelong horse people and Tom works hand-in-hand with their trainer, Miguel Hernandez, in overseeing the stable.

Hernandez used to ride for the McKennas as a jockey, but an injury ended his career in 2013, and they hired him as a private trainer in 2015.

Interestingly, the course they charted for Conquest Mo Money never included the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. He could have been nominated to the entire Triple Crown in January for just $600, but that deadline came before his maiden win. A late nomination stage for $6,000 per horse came and went on March 20, six days before Sunland Derby, without Conquest Mo Money’s name being submitted.

“The Kentucky Derby just never really made sense for this horse,” Tom McKenna said. “After the Sunland Derby, we thought the Arkansas Derby would be the right spot to run him next, and once he ran so well there, it made no sense to me to run him back in the Derby three weeks later, from a training standpoint. It wouldn’t have given him a fair shot.”

Instead of paying $200,000 to supplement Conquest Mo Money for the entire Triple Crown, the McKennas will pony up $100,000 to get him into the Preakness.

“It’s exciting, but you don’t enter any races you don’t think you have a chance to win it,” McKenna said. “The classic races are a different cup of tea from what we’re used to, but it’s also the same old game. If we’re going to run a race, at least we can run in a race with 10 horses in it instead of 20 like bumper cars in the Kentucky Derby. That, I like.”

A horse from New Mexico conquered the run for the roses eight years ago when Mine That Bird delivered his stunning victory at 50.60-to-1 at Churchill Downs. But he also may have run just as well two weeks later in a second-place finish in the Preakness, his rally coming just a length short of the wire-to-wire filly sensation Rachel Alexandra.

Mine That Bird’s trainer, Chip Woolley, has watched Conquest Mo Money closely and thinks his talent and running style will make for a dangerous combination in the Preakness.

“He should be at or on the lead, and I would not be surprised if he runs a big race Saturday,” Woolley said from SunRay Park in Farmington, N.M. “He is a really, really good horse and Miguel has done a great job with him. His run in Arkansas was huge. He had every chance to give it up and he just kept running. It’s a little hard to tell with one like him if he will relish the distance, but if he does, I think he has a good chance. Mine That Bird had some trouble in the Preakness, but I honestly think that was his best race. With Conquest Mo Money, I think his style may be a better fit.

“I know Miguel, but we haven’t talked about [the Preakness] and I would hate to try to advise him. He’s done a super job with his horse and sometimes the best thing to do is stay out of their way. I just hope he has some luck this weekend for Miguel and his owners. They are good people with a very good horse, representing New Mexico.”

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