New Mexico's hopes for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1)—for now, at least—appear to run through Judge Lanier Racing's Conquest Mo Money.
An $8,500 purchase from the Conquest Stables' dispersal at the Keeneland November sale, the Uncle Mo colt has done nothing but win in three starts for trainer Miguel Hernandez at Sunland Park, including his most recent victory Feb. 26 in the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby, the local prep for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 26.
In the 1 1/16-mile dirt test Sunday, Conquest Mo Money competed for the early lead as stablemate Conquest Crown Me ran the first quarter in :22.78, then took over the lead through a half-mile in :46.33. He opened up a one-length lead through six furlongs in 1:11.33 then dug in on the inside to fend off a stretch challenge from favored Irap to win by two lengths. Under jockey Jorge Carreno, the winning colt stopped the clock in 1:43.12.
A debut winner at Sunland Jan. 6 by a neck, Conquest Mo Money improved by leaps and bounds in his second start, an 11-length romp in the Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland Jan. 29. The bay colt was bred in New York by Twin Creeks Farm.
"We have a good horse. There's no doubt about it," said Judge Lanier Racing's Tom McKenna. "It's very simple. It's the Sunland Derby (next)."
The Sunland Derby offers 50 points to the winner in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings. An equine herpesvirus outbreak and quarantine derailed the Sunland Derby in 2016, but a year before Firing Line romped in the race and went on to finish second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby.
Reddam Racing's Irap, who shipped in from Southern California for trainer Doug O'Neill, remains a maiden, but finished second in his third stakes—following the Dec. 10 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and the Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis (G3).
O'Neill's crew, however, didn't leave New Mexico empty handed. Fellow Reddam runners Mopotism and Semper Fortis also competed in stakes races at Sunland Sunday. Mopotism, most recently second to Unique Bella in the Las Virgenes (G2) Feb. 5, held off a determined Kell Paso to win the $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes. Semper Fortis, who ran seventh last time out in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), came in third behind winner Forest Mouse in the $75,000 Curribot Handicap.