BALTIMORE — Tom McKenna, 81, and his wife of 36 years, Sandy, run a 1,200-acre breeding farm in Taiban, New Mexico (population 64). When McKenna had the chance to get Conquest Mo Money for $8,500 last November at a Keeneland dispersal sale, the former rancher and farmer couldn’t believe his good fortune.
The colt is by Uncle Mo, one of the world’s top young sires, whose stud fee is $150,000. Not only did McKenna have a potentially valuable stallion prospect, but he also had a serious runner. Since his career debut Jan. 6 at Sunland Park, Conquest Mo Money has been a four-legged ATM, earning $508,900 with three wins and two seconds in five starts entering Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. He finished seventh in the Preakness and earned no further prize money.
He just missed leading all the way April 15 in the $1-million Arkansas Derby, in which last year’s 2-year-old champion, Classic Empire, beat him by a half-length. Conquest Mo Money had enough qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, but McKenna opted to wait until the Preakness. He had to put up $150,000 to enter because his colt hadn’t been nominated for the Triple Crown.
At 81, going for glory seemed to make more sense than hanging on to that 150 grand. As Sandy McKenna explained: “I said to Tom, ‘What do you think you have, mo’ time or mo’ money?’ ”
The McKennas’ stable is Judge Lanier Racing, named for Tom’s grandfather, a Texas jurist. When Tom was 12, grandpa used him as his jockey in a quarter horse race. “I think we finished fifth or sixth,” McKenna said. “I was scared to death,” more intimidated by the older jockeys than the race itself.”
McKenna attended Thursday’s Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico with his friend Dusty Leatherwood, a cowboy name straight out of central casting. Both wore white Stetsons. “He’s the best dadgum horseshoer in New Mexico,” McKenna said. “If anybody here needs one, I’ve got one.”
Silver more precious than gold
The NFL and Churchill Downs would disagree, but the silver Woodlawn Vase is called “the most valuable trophy in American sports.” Tiffany and Co. created the Preakness bauble in 1860, 13 years before the race was run, and it was buried during the Civil War to prevent its being melted down.
The original stands 34 inches tall, weighs 29 pounds and has been appraised for several million dollars. It’s kept in a glass case at the Baltimore Museum of Art except on Preakness day, when a National Guard unit escorts it to the racetrack. The winning owner receives a replica of about one-third its size.
Unlike most Marylanders, Jay Fisher, the museum’s chief curator, does not look forward to the state’s signature race.
“Every year when the Preakness comes up, we get very nervous when we see people handling it on television,” Fisher said. “We think of the Woodlawn Vase as a great work of art, a great work of silver. At the museum, it’s in a case where everyone can see it but no one can touch it.”
Press has contact with Russian . . . wolfhounds
What once was the Preakness press hotel was a haven for well-bred dogs this week. Instead of harboring racing journalists, this suburban venue hosted the Borzoi Club of America National Specialty Show, an eight-day competition that drew about 300 Russian wolfhounds and their handlers. Considering the media’s reputation these days, many people would say the place upgraded its clientele.
You never saw so many large, skinny, furry critters in the halls. Russian wolfhounds weigh from 55 to 100 pounds, depending on age and sex. Usually, hotels that accept pets have a 25-pound limit, but this convention filled about 200 rooms for eight nights at about $170 per, so that would have been bad business.
Question of the week: “Do you mind sharing an elevator with a dog?” Answer: “No, may I pet it?”
And yes, the dogs stayed in the rooms, creating new situations for the women who knocked and said, “Housekeeping.”
Unlike most reporters, Borzois are described as “intelligent, respectful, gentle, athletic, independent and quiet.” Almost all were, but there are always exceptions.
Overheard at breakfast: “Man, I’m exhausted. I was in a room next to a dog and it woke me up seven or eight times.”
Learning while earning
Trainer Todd Pletcher holds the all-time earnings record, more than $339 million. He said he enjoys learning from the people whose horses he brings to the winner’s circle.
“The relationships are a huge part of it,” Pletcher said. “One of the great things about training horses is you get to meet some very smart and successful people. I like to pick their brains about what they do and the decisions they make in life.”
Anthony Bonomo, lead owner of Always Dreaming, admitted he was dazed seconds after winning the Kentucky Derby.
“I kept staring at the screen. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “My son [Anthony Jr.] and his friends were having a great time, though. It was like a mosh pit.”