Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) contender Conqueror. Photo: Bruno Cannatelli
Victorian trainer David Hayes will be in New Zealand later this week as he puts the finishing touches on three-year-old colt Conqueror (Fastnet Rock) ahead of Saturday’s $1 million Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m).
The good looking son of Fastnet Rock and Kiwi Group One winner Diademe will be out to replicate his year older former barn-mate Long Leaf (Fastnet Rock), who plundered the prize when successful in the race last year.
Hayes, who trains in partnership with son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig, can’t fault the preparation of the last-start Caulfield winner.
“We have been training him right-handed on the Ellerslie leg,” Hayes said.
“He has been coping really well and certainly hasn’t gone backwards. He is very fit and I think he will run a good race. He will travel over on Thursday and gets there on the eve of the race.”
The winner of two of his 10 starts, with a further four placings, Conqueror has been around the mark against some of Australia’s best three-year-olds.
A truly run 1600m race would play to Conqueror’s strengths, with Hayes comparing the colt favourably to Long Leaf over the classic distance.
“I would say he is a better miler than Long Leaf,” Hayes said. “Long Leaf was probably more of a sprinter and this horse is more of a miler.
“With his stallion value and great pedigree we have tried to knock through a good class mile race. We went close without winning.
“He was not far off them in the Caulfield Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m), second in the Sandown Guineas (Gr.2, 1600m) and it was a good run when fourth in the Carbine Club (Gr.3, 1600m) against the very best in Australia.
“After the Karaka Million we will be lengthening him out in distance, because I am sure he is a horse that will thrive over 2000m and even a mile and a half.”
Like Long Leaf, Conqueror was purchased from the draft of Gordon Cunningham’s Curraghmore, fetching $1 million to the bid of bloodstock agent Mark Pilkington.
Sporting the navy blue colours of global breeding giant Coolmore, Conqueror is raced by a syndicate of heavy-hitting international owners and there is a chance the colt could remain in New Zealand for the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) on February 8 with a view to enhancing his future stud credentials.
“Depending on how he runs, we will look at the 2000m weight for age race a couple of weeks after the Karaka Million 3YO,” Hayes said.
“With horses like Melody Belle and Te Akau Shark unlikely to be running in that race, it could be a race that appeals. He will be set for the Sydney Carnival after that.”
While Hayes is pleased with the condition of his colt, he admits he doesn’t know a lot about his opposition, which include quality gallopers Probabeel and Harlech and he will be relying on the local knowledge of star Kiwi hoop James McDonald, who will again be returning home this weekend.
“Having James McDonald in the saddle is a positive,” Hayes said. “He knows his way around Ellerslie and is a world-class jockey.
“Probabeel, who has been in Australia with good form looks the benchmark, but I don’t know a lot about the others.
“All I can say is my horse is a quality colt that is very fit and he will be a hard nut to crack. If he drew in, it would make James’ job easier.”
Hayes, who will be re-joining the training ranks in Hong Kong at the beginning of the new season, is looking forward to adding some more Kiwi yearlings to his barn when he attends the Karaka Sales, which kick off on Sunday.
“I hope we can buy a few,” he said. “I don’t think we will be the headline maker at the sales, but the last two expensive colts that we bought were both pretty good, so it would be nice to find another.”