April 3, 2014
Conquest Titan Works Way into Arkansas Derby Picture
On the strength of his outstanding breeze March 29, Conquest Stables’ Conquest Titan remains on target for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn April 12. The colt is currently one of seven horses leaning towards the 1 1/8-mile race. The other likely starters are Tapiture, Strong Mandate, Ride On Curlin, Bayern, Commissioner and Danza.
“He worked really well the other day at Palm Meadows,” trainer Mark Casse said while referring to the colt’s 5f move in 1:00.70, which was the second fastest of 20 horses working the same distance. “We moved him to Churchill Downs with the rest of the gang and the plan is to breeze him a little there this weekend, and if all goes well, we’re going to Hot Springs.”
The Arkansas Derby, which highlight Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South on closing day of the meet, is one of the final prep races for the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby is part of the Championship Series on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with 170 qualifying points up for the taking, with 100-40-20-10 point awarded for finishing first through fourth.
Conquest Titan currently stands in 35th place for one of the 20 spots in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with nine points, so he needs a breakthrough race in the Arkansas Derby to be in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
“You not only have to get the points, you need to run well enough to show that you belong, said Casse. “He’s got to step up his game. If he’s good enough he will, and if not, we’ll have to go to a Plan B.”
Conquest Titan, a $475,000 purchase out of the 2013 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction of 2-year-olds-in-training, has won two of his seven starts and finished second once for $208,995 in earnings. He flashed his potential in the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream on Jan. 25, running second to eventual Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner Intense Holiday, but then disappointed with a fourth place effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) Mar. 8.
“He ran well in the Holy Bull,” said Casse. “I’m not really sure why he didn’t run better in Tampa, but I don’t think it’s because of a lack of ability. It was possibly due to a few different circumstances, but all that being said there is no more time for excuses. He’s got to step up.”
The final prep races serve to separate the pretenders from the contenders and reputations gained earlier in their young careers no longer count for the 3-year-olds.
“There are some who rise to the occasion and some who fall,” said Casse. “It really doesn’t matter who was good in November, December or January. It matters who’s good in April and May. As I’ve gotten older, and over the years, I’ve learned not to get all worked up over that kind of stuff. You just do the best you can and what will be, will be. You don’t know who’s going to step forward and who isn’t, so you’ve just got to keep trying.”
Conquest Titan, who will accompanied to Hot Springs by Casse’s top assistant and son Norman, is a son of Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone out of a Mineshaft mare so he has the pedigree to stay the trip in the 1 1/8 miles Arkansas Derby and then in the 1 ¼ miles Kentucky Derby.
“He’s bred for it and he’s shown he’s got talent,” said Casse. “We also know he loves Churchill Downs, and that is a big, big plus. Now he needs to show us he can compete with the higher level horses.”
Hall of Fame rider Calvin Borel, winner of three Kentucky Derbys between 2007 and 2010, will be the colt’s new partner in the Arkansas Derby.
“There wasn’t really any big reason for the switch,” said Casse. “Calvin is already there and he seems to be what I thought was a good fit for this horse. He wants to come from way out of it, and Calvin’s pretty good at that. He knows the track like the back of his hand.”
This season was Casse’s first time sending a division to Hot Springs and going into today’s card, he has won six of 49 starts with five seconds and seven thirds.
“I would have liked to have done better, although we did fine,” said Casse. “From the owners’ standpoint, the purses are good. The most important thing for us is where does this take us? The horses come out of Oaklawn happy and sound, and that’s really important because our bread and butter is the spring, summer and fall. Sometimes you have to judge success on different levels. Of course, we would have liked to have won more races in Hot Springs, but more importantly, it’s how they come out of Hot Springs for the rest of the year and that remains to be seen. But, at this point, we are very pleased and we hope to be back next year.”
Malibu Holiday Takes Shot in Sunday’s Carousel
William Heffner has never won a stakes race as an owner or trainer, but that could change when he sends out Malibu Holiday in Sunday’s $100,000 Carousel Stakes at Oaklawn.
“I’m not going to fool anybody,” said Heffner. “This is going to be a tough spot for her, but she deserves some black type and I’m trying to get it for her. She has earned this chance and so I’m going to give it to her.”
Heffner has only had his trainer’s license since 2011, but he has held a license to practice veterinary medicine for decades and has cared for racehorses around the country.
“I was a vet on the racetrack for 44 years, and one of my exes was a trainer so I’ve been around racing and racehorses for a long time,” he said. “When I sold my practice a few years ago I decided it was time to do what I would really enjoy.”
The 5-year-old Malibu Holiday, who was bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, is a daughter of Harlan’s Holiday and the Seeking the Gold mare Malibu Karen. She has a bankroll of $230,389 from four wins from 25 starts, but they have not all been for her current owner/trainer. Heffner claimed her for $20,000 at Belmont Park in Oct. 2012.
“I love her to death,” said Heffner. “She’s a gorgeous filly and she’s well bred. She’s been very good to me and has won over $140,000 since I claimed her. She’s got a very sweet temperament, but she’s all racehorse. If you push her to do something she doesn’t want, she can get aggressive.”
Malibu Holiday is the only horse in Heffner’s stable.
“I came to New Orleans for the meet with four, but two were sold and then the other was claimed from me when I got to Oaklawn 10 days ago,” he said.
The mare comes into the Carousel, which is for fillies and mares going six furlongs, after a seventh place finish when sprinting 5 ½ furlongs in the Mardi Gras Stakes at Fair Grounds Mar. 4. Sprinting is her game.
“It hadn’t been until this year,” said Heffner. “I put her in a seven-eighths race at Belmont just thinking I was getting her tight for her next start, and she ended up blowing them all away (in a $25,000 allowance/optional claimer). After that I got to thinking that maybe she’s a one-turn horse instead of a two-turn horse.”
Heffner, a multiple stakes placed trainer, hopes that Malibu Holiday and he can graduate together into the ranks of stakes winners on Sunday.
“That would be wonderful,” he said. “I really do love her to death.”
The complete field for the Carousel Stakes from the rail out: Jury Wise (Alex Canchari); Ms Anna Destiny (Jesus Castanon); Speedinthruthecity (Luis Quinonez); Livi Makenzie (David Mello); Malibu Holiday (Norberto Arroyo Jr.); Aireofdistriction (Ricardo Santana Jr.) and Itsallinthefamily (Ken Tohill).