Conquest Warrior's Preps Okay with Shug
Thursday, March 28, 2024
    HALLANDALE BEACH - Courtlandt Farms’ Conquest Warrior will make his stakes debut in Saturday’s $1 million Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa in only his fourth career start, and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey couldn’t be happier with the son of City of Light’s preparation for the 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep.    

    “I feel good. We’ve had two good races here and I still have a pretty fresh horse. He’s trained good over it,” McGaughey said. “He’s had a race going a mile and an eighth here, which he handled, obviously, very easily. He came out of it good. I don’t think we took anything out of him.”

    Conquest Warrior is rated second on the morning line at 3-1 behind Fierceness, the 2023 juvenile champion who has been installed at 8-5 for the 73rd running of the Curlin Florida Derby, which will headline a 14-race program with 10 stakes, five graded, worth $2.425 million. The $1 million purchase at the 2022 Keeneland September sale finished third over a muddy Aqueduct track following a slow start in his Dec. 2 debut at seven furlongs. He graduated Jan. 13 after rallying from far back in a one-turn mile maiden special weight event at Gulfstream, where he came back to capture a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance by five lengths.

    “He learned a lot back at Aqueduct in the fall, and when he broke his maiden here, he kind of smashed away from the gate and got in a little trouble at the three-eighths pole. He was able to overcome it. The race here the other day, I thought was a really good race going a mile and an eighth,” McGaughey said. “I was a little bit worried about going that far after only two starts, but if I was going to run in the Florida Derby, that’s what I was going to have to do. I thought he handled it really well. He’s a very smart, straightforward horse, so he’s been able to overcome his problems.”

    McGaughey saddled Orb for a Florida Derby win in 2013. The son of Malibu Moon, who went on to capture the Kentucky Derby, had considerably more experience than Conquest Warrior going into the Florida Derby, having won a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream in his fifth career start before capturing the G. II Fountain of Youth.

    In addition to clashing with Fierceness, Conquest Warrior will meet Gr. III Holy Bul winner Hades in the Curlin Florida Derby.

    “It is a big step up. He’s going from a non-winners-of-one allowance race to a Grade 1 in the Florida Derby,” McGaughey acknowledged. “He’s meeting some pretty challenging horses, but it’s time to see if we’re going to go on down the road the way we hope to. He’s going to have to show up Saturday in the Florida Derby. It will be a nice test for him. There’s some nice horses in there. They’ve all been running in top-class races against some really nice horses.”

    Nevertheless, Conquest Warrior is the only horse in the field of 11 3-year-olds that has won at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Curlin Florida Derby.

    “I think he’s a true router – a mile and an eighth and even farther,” McGaughey said. “One of the good things about him is you can do what you want with him. He’s got a really, really good mind." Jose Ortiz returns on Conquest Warrior Saturday.
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