Conquest Big E hustled to the lead out of the starting gate and made all the pace in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile (G2), showing the way on a short lead before drawing off to a three-length decision. Overlooked at 12-1 for owner Danny Hurtak and trainer Donna Hurtak, the gray Tapit gelding was guided by Jose Batista.
Always Dreaming held second throughout in his first start since an unplaced effort in the Travers (G1). A five-length winner of the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, the Kentucky Derby winner secured a good stalking spot behind Conquest Big E along the backstretch and even though he lacked the necessary finishing kick in the final furlongs, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt may have needed the race after concluding last year with three straight disappointing performances and will be eligible to show more next time.
The 9-5 second choice among six runners, Always Dreaming wound up 1 ½ lengths better than late-running stablemate Tommy Macho, who edged Page McKenney by a neck for third. It was a sizable gap back to Mr. Jordan in fifth and slight 9-5 favorite Irish War Cry finished last. Winner of last year’s Wood Memorial (G2) and second in the Belmont Stakes (G1), Irish War Cry was eased under the wire by Jose Ortiz after coming up empty in upper stretch.
Conquest Big E led by about a length through opening splits in :23.57 and :45.88. He edged away from the competition rounding the far turn and reached the three-quarters mark in 1:10.03 with a three-length advantage. The 6-year-old rolled home much the best and completed the one-turn mile in 1:35.92.
Bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd., Conquest Big E recorded his first graded stakes victory and has now earned $393,555 from a 20-5-2-1 scorecard. Last seen posting a fourth in the February 24 Hal’s Hope (G3), he finished a close second in the Fred Hooper (G3) two starts previously and captured the overnight Coast Is Clear H. last July.
A half-brother to stakes winner Aquapazza, Conquest Big E hails from the Carson City mare Seeinsbelieven, a half-sister to Grade 2 vixen Softly.
Trainer Donna Green Hurtak (Conquest Big E): “He’s been having a little bit of a bad habit of hopping out of the gate, and it’s costing him a good position which has cost him in the other two stakes races that he ran in. We did a little gate work with him, trying to get him out of the habit, and it’s great when you’re a trainer and things work because it’s not easy to get them out of bad habits. I’m very proud of him today.
“When we got position, I knew that he can run with these horses. He’s a very, very talented horse. He’s also a Tapit and they can be a little quirky. We’re just pleased he got to show his ability today.”
Jose Batista (Conquest Big E): “I just wanted to make sure I had a good break, relax the horse and we went on and the horse responded, which made it easy.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher (Always Dreaming): “I thought he ran well first time off a layoff. Gulfstream can be a tricky track when a horse gets loose like that. We got the trip we were hoping for. We got a nice clean trip. I thought he fell into a good rhythm and ran steadily. The horse on the lead never came back.
”It was a positive effort. A mile is a tough distance to start off a layoff. We gave a way a lot of recency to pretty much the whole field. I know the horse that won had a couple troubled trips here. He was a horse I was concerned about shaking loose. The main focus for us was to get a positive start.”