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 which 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 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Accelerate.
Scroll ahead four years later. A six-year-old ConquestDaddyo finds himself running second July 27, 2019 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 timeline, 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 $324,000-earning multiple stakes winner had taken a downward spiral and some in the Horse Racing community were 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. She also has a half-interest in a retired thoroughbred named Seven.
“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 had left an indelible mark on Volpe. Seeing him spiral down the claiming ranks to State Fairs had been worrisome for fans who have followed the once-promising horse’s career. She thinks about the horse 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 unwavering 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 replyafter contacting RyanHanson 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 asked Yu Hanson about this via e-mail and shereveals 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 inspired 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 then posted 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 humane to be concerned, knowing how far he has fallen from grace as a competitive racehorse.
We weren’t the only ones watching. Twitter accounts like @NotCloudyAllDay track racehorses which might be at risk and Daddyo had been on their radar:
Several questions have mounted in all of this and we asked Yu Hanson the burning question about Daddyo 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 back class, 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). At nine-years-old, the once-thriving earner of $620,000 ran his final race November 2018 after changing hands to trainer Wesley Giles, likewise turning-in Also-Ran finishes again.
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 was 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 then his surfacing on the fair circuit we once were told Daddyo wasn’t being “pointed for”.
And while some of the excerpts lifted from Facebook might have been posted 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.”. Her husband Ryan despite failing to find success with Daddyo, in recent years has seen some results with over $1 million in earnings combined in 2019 and 2020.
We had kept the lines of communication open with Yu Hanson and Daddyo’s then owners (her in-laws), making an offer May 2019, although it was done just after he had shipped from California back to Idaho. The amount offered also didn’t appease them. As he was offered for a tag of $3,200 that 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.
We knew then that we were in for a ride.
Volpe also tries reaching HarlanBirdrattler 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.
Our intentions always were simple. We were not out to vilify Conquest Daddyo’s recent connections, but more were seeking clarity in a conversation clouded in gray.
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. While many would expect Daddyo’s previous connections to foot the bill of his aftercare and claim, attempts to reach-out for help went unanswered.
Yu Hanson and her husband have received a significant amount of backlash online, resulting in her having taken 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. We tried.
After a sub-par effort at Black Foot in Idaho Monday, September 2, 2019, the moment came finally and we were contacted by Nathaniel Birdrattler.
In a phone conversation with Volpe the following morning, we were assured of Daddyo‘s soundness. An agreement had been met for Volpe to purchase Conquest Daddyo, with arrangements to ship him back to Canada shortly after one final race that following weekend, which (unfortunately) saw him finish first in a $2,000 Allowance race. Winning that race however proved to be our loss, awakening hope in his connections that he could bank them some more purse money.
Birdrattler told Volpe that his grandson wanted very much to keep him to ride, however he told him, “There’s a girl out there who wants him much more than you.”.
Following the win, we had reached out to Birdrattler who passed Volpe off to his daughter Lashonda Tatsey, to make shipment arrangements. Calls and messages went unreturned.
I personally had followed-up with Birdrattler again on September 17, 2019 and again failed to hear back:
September 24, 2019 we reach out to Lashonda Tatsey on Facebook and fail to hear back again.
We then were shocked to see Daddyo surface at Lethbridge in Alberta October 6, 2019 despite getting verbal reassurance from Birdrattler that his race September 7, 2019 at Blackfoot would be his last. He was entered under the interests of owner Rosetta Birdrattler and trainer Jenny Jo Tailfeathers, whom we understand are his family. Turning in a fifth-place finish, we couldn’t believe he quickly again would return in entries October 13, 2019 at Lethbridge (Alberta), this time for a $4,000 claiming tag.
We were disheartened that Birdrattler failed to deliver on his promise to us. Prematurely we delivered good news to all our supporters and donors, which sadly turned out to be a false promise. Having raised enough money to claim Daddyo at the inflated price of $4,000, we were set to put in a claim on him, only once again to face a roadblock. We were advised that Rocky Mountain Turf Club and Tailfeathers had caught wind of all the fundraising chatter on Social Media, resulting in her scratching Daddyo from the race. Hence, while we received so much support out West and from the racing community in order to seal the deal, a rule which disallows the claiming of a horse for the purpose of retirement, would have voided our claim. The system in its regulations has a mechanism in place preventing horses from being for the lack of a better word, “saved”.
And once again we had lost what seemed like a surefire way to claim him, losing a convenient opportunity to route him home via a domestic carrier from Alberta to Ontario. We were no further ahead. Lessons learned. If you are claiming a horse, be secretive.
A winter had passed and Volpe made a few attempts to reach Birdrattler and his family without success, although she did hear back from a grandson of his once, who told her that the intent was to have Daddyo run once again on the fair circuit. The world was forced to navigate the Pandemic and horse racing at smaller race tracks would see entire meet cancellations, including those on the fair circuit at which Daddyo would race. We had wondered about Daddyo and whether he had been retired for good and if we’d lost our chance to get him back entirely. How would we answer to those who entrusted us with their generosity in our fundraising efforts?
Without a workout registered on his tab in over 21 months, you can imagine our surprise seeing Daddyo surface again in the entries at Great Falls in Montana for July 26, 2021. He was up for a claiming tag of $2,000, which was actually less than what Volpe had offered Birdrattler prior. Perusing the entries below, you get a sense of the Birdrattlers‘ place as a fixture in these parts, with seven out of eight horses affiliated with the name. Volpe was determined not be denied this time, but not having any contacts in Montana posed a great issue. Who would claim the horse and hold him while shipping arrangements to Ontario were ironed-out?
Volpe and I once again took to Facebook early in the morning of July 25, 2021 to ask our friends in the racing community for their help. She managed on Facebook to connect with Nikki Greene, the wife of trainer David Greene, who would prove to be the guardian angel to move this along. The couple also are known in those parts among some as trusted horsepeople.
Once we were confident we had a solid connection, we deleted any trace of our pleas for help. We would not let Social Media chatter get in the way of our goal again. Volpe had coordinated the transfer of funds to the U.S. overnight, but transactional limits posed a bit of concern, though fortunately the payment went through without a hitch.
The race was set to go off at 5:05 PM ET. Volpe, unable to get much sleep the night before, had checked the entries at Great Falls repeatedly to ensure Daddyo wasn’t scratched out of the race. We couldn’t bear to get this close again only to lose out. 5:05 came and we wondered why there were no updates. We were then made aware that there had been a 30-minute delay on the race card, which really should have come as no surprise considering how many obstacles we had faced already. Of course, there was another delay! It only made sense.
5:50 arrived finally. A message came through that not only had Daddyo run third in the race – unharmed – but also that we were able successfully to claim him under Nikki and David Greene. We were finally able to let out a loud collective sigh of relief over our phones.
The finish earned Jenny Jo Tailfeathers and Nathaniel Birdrattler $360. A cut of that to go to jockey Holly Gervais. Birdrattler congratulated the Greenes on their claim and wished them all the best, likely unaware the horse would be going to “the girl out there who wanted him much more”.
Coincidentally, this Daddyo‘s final race ever would come six years shy a day his win first time out at Woodbine July 26, 2015.
NikkiGreene sent over the above photo after the mission accomplished, entrusting him with a friend, Buck Nelson who took wonderful care of him, and we are so appreciative. He was so kind even to gift Daddyo with a new lead and halter, insisting he deserved only the best, appreciative he got to take care of horse with so much back class.
Greene tells us, “He’s an amazing horse and so lucky to be headed where he is! We were happy to help! I am so glad it turned out that we were in the right place at the right time, and our paths crossed so random. People are in the right place at the right time, not by chance, it’s planned by something bigger than us.”.
While more than ever transparency and ethics have come up in Horse Racing in response to recent controversies, it is the spirit of humanity and the love of horses which would prevail, leading strangers to help one another for the welfare of a horse. It didn’t matter if we were Democrats, Republicans, Conservative or Liberal or where we stood on which side of the divide. We had developed our own preconceived notions about the fair circuit and the ethics of its horsepeople, but the kindness and generosity of David and Nikki Greene, and Buck opened our eyes that good exists everywhere and even after you’ve felt there wasn’t much left to hope for. Persistence, kindness and support of the community helped us overcome the jarring litany of hurdles installed in this four-year-long steeplechase race.
May we all learn from Daddyo‘s example that horses no matter how loved and accomplished they are, still can fall through the cracks. In his case, he was competing at the top level on the continent, ultimately being discarded for $2,000 six years later. While often the industry celebrates excellence and achievement, unflattering stories won’t see the light of day.
We had pitched our story to multiple credible industry websites and time and again we were told, they were afraid to publish stories in which certain individuals and the industry at large are seen in a negative light. Some saw this is a personal dispute that didn’t warrant a story. While Aftercare of horses is growingly negotiating its way into discussion in the industry, stories like this still are occurring in 2021. Daddyo gets his happy ending, but not every other horse will. How can we move forward if we are avoiding the uncomfortable conversations?
Daddyo after a quick hold in Montana, made his way to Kentucky on the morning of July 30, 2021 for a layover before finally making his way home to Ontario. After some delays, he would arrive at his new home just after 11:00 PM August 7, 2021, a 15-hour trailer ride.
Volpe says, “When the trailer pulled-up last night, the reality that he actually is here, hit me. It’s a relief that this is finally over and I don’t have to worry about where he is and if he’s okay anymore.”.
A bit taller, his mane as thick as ever and noticeably leaner than she remembered him, he was sporting a bit of a bump on his lower back, which we learned can be corrected with some adjustments to his nutrition. Daddyo thankfully is sound. “The Birdrattlers did take care of him. And for that I’m grateful”, she adds.
Daddyo settling-in with Seven and Ollie
Sarah Volpe & Conquest Daddyo, 2015 & 2021
Another coincidence in this tale of stars aligning, is that the last time I saw Volpe in-person was two years ago when I ran into her at Saratoga where we were both venting our frustrations about our ordeal. Exactly two years later the day, who’d have known we would be celebrating over Cotton Candy ice cream that Daddyo came home?
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you all so much. Combing through Social Media we know many of you had questions and doubts, but we assure you we never forgot about Daddyo. It was always our intention to find a way to get him home to Volpe and with your support, we did. All the donations and emotional support you gave us empowered us see this through to the finish and you equally are a part of this journey.