Conquistador had flourished at exactly the right time to get the ultimate in media exposure. Entering the Travers, he had won seven straight races and seemed far in front of the 3-year-old division. Shortly after the Belmont, he had also begun making news off the track. Business news. Stories of his imminent syndication spread, and the price went up every day. A week before the Travers, some remarkable figures were announced: Claiborne Farm would syndicate the colt for $36.4 million, though his owner, Henryk deKwiatkowski, said, "It wasn't the highest offer I received." There are 40 shares, with deKwiatkowski retaining 10—two of which are ticketed for Trainer Woody Stephens. Each share cost $910,000, an astounding figure even by racing's inflated standards. Compare Conquistador's price per share to those of other top horses of the past decade: Spectacular Bid, $550,000; Affirmed, $400,000; Seattle Slew, $300,000; Secretariat, $190,000. In no way are Conquistador's accomplishments equal to theirs. Is he worth $910,000 a share? Yep, just as long as someone is willing to pay.
However, the price Conquistador Cielo himself paid in the Travers was also heavy. Not only did his reputation and his chance at the Horse of the Year award suffer, but the day after the race, Stephens announced that the colt would be retired from racing. He had strained a ligament in his left front ankle. "I decided it would be in the best interest of the horse," said Stephens. "He didn't have the best of it yesterday, being on the inside and all. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have had him go to the lead instead of taking back. He was too rank, and a horse can't run like that."
It was an opinion that Conquistador's jockey, Eddie Maple, would have agreed with. "Conquistador fought me all the way," Maple said after the race. "I just couldn't get him to relax. He used himself too much."
Maple has spent a good deal of time in recent weeks squabbling with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board over when he should start a suspension given him on Aug. 2. Through legal maneuverings, Maple kept his ride on Conquistador Cielo in the Travers, but that wasn't certain until six hours before the race, when a judge so ruled.
Rumors circulated throughout Saratoga that Conquistador Cielo would be scratched if Maple wasn't allowed to ride. Stephens, however, had already thought ahead and taken "a call" on Jeffrey Fell, and still another on Don MacBeth. In a game of musical saddles, Fell was to end up on Runaway Groom and take home 10% of the winner's share of $132,900. It was the Canadian jockey's second Travers ride, and his first win.
Fell is also the regular rider of Timely Writer, the Kentucky Derby favorite, who had to miss the spring's top events because of an intestinal disorder. But Timely Writer has made it back to the racetrack and recently won the Yankee Handicap at Suffolk Downs. How does Fell compare the two horses? "Timely Writer has more ability than most of the 3-year-olds at Saratoga," he says. "He's an outstanding colt. If he can come back all the way, he's the horse to beat in the big races of the fall."
With Conquistador Cielo out of the scene, those fall races—the $200,000 Woodward Stakes, the $400,000 Marlboro Cup and the $500,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup—could decide Horse of the Year honors. By the way, all three races are at Belmont. Saratoga's elms can't be blamed for any fresh surprises.