#HORSERACING: BRINGING DADDYO HOME
Words and Photos by Mr. Will Wong
It was an overcast day September 12, 2015 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Making only his third start was a promising two-year-old colt by prolific stallion Scat Daddy (sire of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify) for popular owners Conquest Stables LLC. The charismatic duo Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell were just emerging in Horse Racing as a major force to be reckoned with, after a short time in the business already winning a Sovereign Award as Outstanding Owners in Canada. Sent-off at sleepy odds of 15-1 by the betting public in the prestigious Grade II Summer Stakes, CONQUEST DADDYO didn’t look like he had a chance, breaking slowly out of the gate. Saving the best for late, he powered past the field down Woodbine’s lush turf course under ship-in rider Joe Bravo with a late drive that took him to the wire first. The race, which later got upgraded to Grade I status, earned the handsome dark bay colt a berth among the world’s best at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky at the $1-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. For it all, he was two lengths from glory, placing a solid fourth on the big day.
Exactly one year after this, the bright lights that were Conquest Stables had dimmed as they shocked the industry with news of their decision to exit the business. Conquest Daddyo would find himself among 115 impeccably-bred horses to be dispersed at Keeneland’s 2016 November Breeding Stock Sale, the same exact place he found himself 12 months prior at the Breeders’ Cup. With the auction gavel dropping at $120,000 US, Conquest Daddyo was sold to Martin Anthony and he would begin the next phase of his racing career for new owners Hronis Racing LLC, in California, the same connections as eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Accelerate.
Flash-forward to the now. A six-year-old Conquest Daddyo finds himself running second last weekend for a claiming tag of $3,200 and a purse of $3,700 at Great Falls’ State Fair Meet in Montana. It was his first top three finish in a race since winning the Toronto Cup August 21, 2016 at Woodbine during his sophomore campaign. Since being auctioned at Keeneland, he had posted eleven consecutive Also-Ran performances.
Following his trail, we saw him log-in workouts from Southeast Idaho at Pocatello Downs, a racetrack not without its share of troubles. Its future was considered in jeopardy after cases of animal cruelty involving 15 horses and a mule were exposed in May 2016. To frame the bigger picture, Boise’s Les Bois Park, once the only commercial racetrack to operate in Idaho, closed also in 2016 after Instant Racing machines (allowing bettors to bet on previously-run horse races) were ruled illegal in the state and remains closed still to this day. Horse Racing still is accessible there at various State and County Fairs.
Circumstances for the $320,000-earning multiple stakes winner have taken a downward spiral and some in the Horse Racing community are concerned.
Conquest Daddyo, 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
Sarah Volpe is a single mother, employed full-time, who worked as a groom for the barn of Mark Casse in the time Conquest Daddyo was based at Woodbine. She was an integral part of the horse’s success when he was at his best, responsible for his daily care over two seasons. She owns one pony named Ollie whom she has raised since birth, also having owned his mother.
“The first time I met Conquest Daddyo, I thought he was going to be a lot of work. He was high-strung, a little pushy and hard to handle. Being assigned to my section of stalls at the barn, I had no choice but to put-up with him”, she says. “It didn’t take long before I fell in love with him. With a little patience and some love, we would navigate his quirks.”. “While days often started early in my job, coming in every morning to the greeting of his loud nicker made it all worthwhile. He was spoiled, but worked so hard and deserved it.”.
Conquest Daddyo & Sarah Volpe
Daddyo has left an indelible mark on Volpe. Seeing him spiral down the claiming ranks and now to State Fairs has been worrisome for fans who have followed the once-promising horse’s career. She thinks about him daily and still remembers the day he stepped onto the truck Lexington-bound for the sales at Keeneland, tearful she’d lost a friend and uncertain what his future might hold. “It was a sad day. It has been even sadder watching him struggle on the track and to see him get claimed. My heart was breaking not being able to help him.”.
Volpe has been clear in her intentions to provide aftercare to Conquest Daddyo should he no longer serve purpose as a racehorse. She reached out to trainer Ryan Hanson, son of owners Jim Hanson and Robin Dunn, who claimed the horse February 24, 2018 at Santa Anita for $20,000 after a few lackluster performances for Hronis Racing LLC and trainer John Sadler. She received the following reply after contacting Ryan Hanson via Facebook April 21, 2018:
Daddyo would continue to deliver sub-par efforts under Hanson. One Facebook post on April 28, 2018, before he was about to race from Hanson’s wife Michelle Yu Hanson (Simulcast Host at Santa Anita Racetrack) indicates dwindling patience with Daddyo’s form, attributing it to a need for him to be gelded (castrated):
Daddyo wound-up placing last in a field of 12 that day, defeated by 17 1/4 lengths and then was laid-off.
We ask Yu Hanson about this via e-mail and she reveals to us that Conquest Daddyo had a procedure done not too long after the above post. “He has been gelded – and in fact, his testicles were so bruised when removed there is no question that was causing him serious discomfort when running.”. This procedure however didn’t result in any significant improvement in form.
He then transitioned to Pocatello Downs in Idaho for a duration, posting workouts which showed none the more inspiration on his part, accounting for among the slowest workouts at his distances with actual effort from the rider, as denoted “handily“:
After a long stretch of no recorded workouts, Daddyo posted only one official workout at Sandy Downs in Idaho before last weekend’s re-surfacing for a $3,200 tag at Great Falls:
Daddyo between February 2017 to July 2019 had lost by a combined margin of 152 lengths. He went from California-based Ryan Hanson‘s guidance subsequently to his Idaho-based brother Mark Hanson‘s care, racing under the latter’s name in his debut at Great Falls in Montana. Daddyo‘s race charts have been littered with comments like “weakened” and “eased” time and again, patterns which suggest perhaps some type of an underlying concern that might be physiological, or quite simply, he no longer desires competition. It is right and human to be concerned, knowing how far he has fallen.
We aren’t the only ones watching. Twitter accounts like @NotCloudyAllDay track racehorses which might be at risk and Daddyo has been on their radar:
Several questions have mounted in all of this and we asked Yu Hanson the burning question about Daddyo‘s surfacing in Idaho. She explains, “We do not have an abundance of stalls at Santa Anita, so we utilize our Idaho string as a place to give breaks and keep conditioning up in a low-key environment. It is unfortunate that so many people look upon the intermix twin region with disdain, but it is a very special place to our family, our owners and is our home.”. “He is not pointing for the fair circuit, but our family trains there and has some land for turnout.”.
Yu Hanson also is adamant that Conquest Daddyo is sound physically, posting short video clips of him on Facebook, galloping leisurely as evidence of good health.
In a Facebook message sent to Yu Hanson April 2018 by four-time Sovereign Award-winning Turf Writer Jennifer Morrison, the question of Conquest Daddyo’s wellness was raised. Yu Hanson replies to Morrison, “Neither ‘Chips’ nor ‘Daddyo’ is lame or hurt. They are mid-level claimers that need a change. And we are giving them their best chance to succeed as racehorses.”.
She tells me, “While we appreciate a horse that has backclass, I stress people remember that we claimed him as a mid-level claimer, we didn’t buy him as a stakes horse. So the fact that he isn’t running in stakes doesn’t mean that he needs a home.”. She is adamant that the horse never was mistreated.
“Chips” to clarify, is 2013 Breeders’ Cup entrant Chips All In, whom her family acquired as a “mid-level claimer”, like Conquest Daddyo, both once under the care of her husband. The former failed to finish a race September 30, 2017 at Sandy Downs, after surfacing on the State Fair circuit there for a purse of $1,750 (a winner’s share of $1,050). Now ten-years-old, the once-thriving earner of $620,000 has not raced since November 2018 after changing hands to trainer Wesley Giles, likewise turning-in Also-Ran finishes again.
And while some of these excerpts lifted from Facebook might have been posted in haste or in humour, it is important to note that many in the Horse Racing industry respect Yu Hanson‘s opinion. One unnamed authority in the industry tells us, “Michelle Yu Hanson is someone perceived as very credible.”.
May 2019 we follow-up again and she has given us her word that Daddyo was in excellent hands with her in-laws:
Owning and caring for a horse comes at great expense and responsibility. The question never was whether Conquest Daddyo was being cared for adequately, it more is whether or not he should still be racing. We are empathetic that a $20,000 investment from owners Jim Hanson and Robin Dunn is rather substantial, plus the costs of caring for him. We can’t help but think he had become a burden financially and the horse was long overdue for a return on investment, hence a sudden class drop and his surfacing on the Fair Circuit we once were told Daddyo wasn’t being “pointed for”.
Mark Hanson‘s 2019 Equibase stats:
We have kept the lines of communication open with Yu Hanson and Daddyo’s current owners (her in-laws), making an offer this May, although it was done just after he had shipped from California back to Idaho. The amount offered also didn’t seem to be what his connections were hoping for. As he was offered for a tag of $3,200 this weekend, still unable to win, we felt the timing was right now to revisit this again.
Sadly after this race, we learned that Daddyo was claimed by new interests, owner Lydia Tatsey and trainer Nathaniel Birdrattler. Yu Hanson was kind enough to manufacture a point of contact for a Harlan Birdrattler, from her brother-in-law. The actual trainer who claimed him however was Nathaniel Birdrattler. Upon reaching Harlan, he denies having any contact information for Nathaniel.
Volpe also tries reaching Harlan Birdrattler via telephone. He picked-up and disconnected the call before a word was spoken.
With assistance, we finally are able to locate Nathaniel Birdrattler. Google searches rendered things, both flattering and unflattering. We hope sincerely he is more the flattering.
I reach out and offer to help arrange Daddyo’s return to Canada after his racing career is finished and hope that phone call comes one day. Until then, Volpe and I are waiting for Daddyo to come home.
Our intentions are simple. We are not out to vilify Conquest Daddyo’s connections, but more we are seeking clarity in a conversation clouded in a lot of gray area.
Animal Welfare is everybody’s business. Questions should be posed to those whose opinions are respected, as long as they are the right ones. Questions should be asked about who obtains possession of a horse and how.
Yu Hanson and her husband have received a significant amount of backlash online, resulting in her taking a hiatus from Facebook. “There have been some cruel, aggressive and point blank unfair statements made about our racing operation”, she tells me.
It is important to do what is right when a horse has been more than clear they no longer are interested in being a racehorse. Yu Hanson adds, “If Daddyo comes back and shows a lack of competitive drive, we are always open to finding good homes for our former racers.”.
This day and realization sadly never came in good timing.
What is right is that Conquest Daddyo’s retirement and dignity be placed first and that he be given his best life.
Many of us still are heartbroken by the recent deaths of his stablemates, champions Conquest Enforcer due to a bladder stone this past December, and Conquest Typhoon of a heart attack just earlier this month.
Volpe is asking for assistance from the community in helping purchase Conquest Daddyo from his new owners. Calculations to transport him to his birthplace of Toronto have been totaled and a plan already has been mapped-out in detail with permanent accommodations for him. We are counting on you to support us in our efforts to garner funds to arrange his purchase and aftercare.
If we are unsuccessful acquiring Daddyo, we will guarantee refund to all donors.
We need so much for Daddyo to have his due happily ever after and you too can be a part of our story. We don’t have a lot of time as we don’t know where he will surface next.
Click here to donate and please share with friends our story.
Conquest Daddyo & Sarah Volpe
(Photo credit: Mr. Will Wong)