Kellie Reilly picks the Gotham Stakes for Kentucky Derby Dream Bet

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March 4th, 2016

After siding with Gun Runner and Mohaymen in the first two races of the Kentucky Derby Dream Bet’s Qualifying Round, the law of averages is bound to catch up with me in Saturday’s Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct. So consider that a reader warning, or for fans of Latin, caveat lector.

I’m pinning my hopes of a hat trick on Conquest Big E (#6, 6-1). While the well-bred gray has yet to live up to his big reputation at home, trainer Mark Casse knows the time of day, as our international friends might say, and this is a significant class drop from his past stakes attempts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Holy Bull (G2). An open-looking Gotham looks like a winnable spot, whether naming him after Conquest Stables’ co-owner Ernie Semersky turns out to be overly ambitious in the long run or not.

A $700,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Conquest Big E is by Tapit, from a black-type productive family, with a strong pedigree pattern of inbreeding to both Seattle Slew and Mr. Prospector. Judging by his race replays, you can see a gangly, immature type gradually strengthening into his frame and becoming more professional, implying that there’s still more to come from him.

Conquest Big E was a solid second to Brody’s Cause in his debut, despite totally blowing the break and racing too keenly throughout a wide trip. He dropped the blinkers next at Keeneland, where he broke his maiden comfortably in the slop. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a case of too much, too soon, but even though he failed to maintain his position entering the stretch, he kept on to finish part of the heap behind the top two. Greenpointcrusader, for example, was only a half-length ahead of him in seventh. Conquest Big E got a confidence-boost back at Churchill, again enjoying the slop in an allowance that presaged better things ahead.

Unfortunately, Conquest Big E could not build on that effort when a distant fourth in the Holy Bull. Casse revealed an extenuating circumstance: he was badly affected by the heat, to the verge of heat stroke. That may well explain Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith’s not persevering with him in the stretch; perhaps he could feel that the colt was struggling. His nine-length margin of defeat thus isn’t a true bill.

But Conquest Big E still turned in the fastest BRIS Late Pace (103) of anyone in the Gotham field. So even if you ignore that excuse from the Holy Bull, he fits well in this spot. He also gets cool weather, and picks up a local maven in Jose Ortiz. It could be now or never for the Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful, who recently fired a bullet five furlongs at Palm Meadows (“awesome,” to quote assistant trainer Norman Casse).

You may recall that I didn’t pick Zulu in the Fountain of Youth (G2) because both of his starts came on off tracks, so why am I flip-flopping here with a horse whose wins have come in the slop? Partly it’s because Zulu was making his stakes and two-turn debut against Mohaymen. Conquest Big E isn’t trying anything new in the Gotham, let alone face anyone of Mohaymen’s stature. He also ran well enough in his debut on a fast track to imply that he’s not just a mudlark, although it’s fair to say the jury’s out.

The admirably consistent Sunny Ridge is the only stakes winner in the Gotham, but he’s conceding seven pounds to everyone else, and that’s tough in an evenly matched group. Shagaf is a smart prospect, but he’s making his stakes and two-turn debut all at once. And Rally Cry would have finished a lot closer to him if he hadn’t been butchered on the rail in their allowance. Adventist is eligible to show more if he’s learned anything from his green third to Sunny Ridge in the Withers. Laoban exits a third in a weak renewal of the Sham (G3), while Vincento was well beaten in the Gander for New York-breds. 

Here are free past performances for the Gotham, courtesy of

And check out the Kentucky Derby Dream Bet contest, where you can play to win a trip to this year’s Kentucky Derby and Oaks and a $25,000 win bet on the Kentucky Derby.

Conquest Big E graphic courtesy of Conquest Stables via Twitter