07/02/2015 10:31AM

Conquest Stables takes first shot at Queen’s Plate

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Ernie Semersky and partner Dory Newell’s Conquest Stables has ascended to prominence after just three years in operation and will have its first Queen’s Plate starter Sunday at Woodbine.

Conquest Boogaloo will represent Conquest Stables and comes into the $1 million Queen’s Plate off a third-place finish in the Plate Trial Stakes on June 14 at Woodbine. Conquest Curlinate also was under consideration for the Queen’s Plate but sustained a minor injury during training Thursday and was withdrawn.

“We’ve been preparing for this race,” Semersky said. “We’re very excited.”

Semersky and Newell entered Thoroughbred racing as owners in 2012 after attending the Kentucky Derby. Semersky, a venture capitalist from the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ill., was introduced to trainer Mark Casse by Donnie Richardson, an executive at Churchill Downs at the time. The owner-trainer combination immediately clicked.

“I’ve found Mark to be the most honest and hardest-working guy I’ve met,” Semersky said. “He’s an incredible horseman. I’ve invested a lot of money in him, and I didn’t even look at another trainer. He was somebody that we trusted.”

Conquest Stables acquired its first horse, Gunderman, later that summer and set its sights on acquiring more. Semersky and Newell purchased three yearlings for $325,000 in the fall of 2012 and added to the stable in 2013, acquiring 24 horses for nearly $6.2 million. In all, Conquest Stables has been the listed buyer of 68 yearlings or 2-year-olds since 2012 for a total of $21 million. Semersky estimated that the stable currently owns 100 horses.

Success quickly followed on the track. The stable recorded eight wins from its first 25 starters through the end of the 2013 season but exploded in 2014, when many of its auction purchases in 2013 hit the track. In 81 starts in 2014, Conquest Stables recorded 23 wins, including nine stakes victories. The stable earned more than $2 million, which ranked 32nd among all North American owners.

Since 2012, Conquest Stables has 43 wins from 157 starters, and Semersky said Newell adds a gold charm to a bracelet after every win.

“She has a bracelet that she can barely lift her arm with,” he said. “We never thought we’d win this many this quick.”

A good portion of that success has come at Woodbine and with Canadian-bred horses. Conquest Stables has been the listed buyer of 13 Canadian-breds at public auction since 2012, totaling $2.9 million. That figure does not include horses purchased at the Canadian Premier Yearling Sale at Woodbine last September.

“They’ve invested heavily in the Canadian program,” Casse said. “They were by far the biggest buyer at the [Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society] sale last year, and when we go to the sales, we’re always looking at Canadian-breds.”

Twelve of Conquest Stables’s 23 victories in 2014 came at Woodbine, including seven stakes wins. The stable also had its first Sovereign Award winners in 2014 as Ontario-breds Conquest Typhoon and Conquest Harlanate were named Canadian champion juveniles in their respective divisions. The stable also was a finalist for outstanding owner.

“I love Woodbine,” Semersky said. “I love the people there. I felt like we could accomplish what we wanted, and Woodbine was a great place to start. We did invest heavily in Canada because I like to put my money and my time where I think the people care.”

Semersky and Casse said their strategy at public auction has changed. While they initially looked for horses who could make a quick impact, Conquest Stables now is aggressively pursuing two-turn classic-type horses and those with stallion and broodmare potential.

“It’s a different type of horse than we’ve bought previously,” Semersky said. “We wanted to get a quick start. Our five-furlong 2-year-olds were unbeatable. We’re buying bigger route horses for the classic races. We’re looking for Grade 1 horses, classic horses, and they take a little while to develop. We’re in a different mode now, and I think Mark and I are in sync 100 percent. We’re doing some breeding and trying to create some stallions.”

That change in strategy could pay off handsomely in Sunday’s Queen’s Plate, and Semersky is confident that Conquest Boogaloo can add another charm to Newell’s bracelet.

“I hope at the very least we can make people proud of us at the Queen’s Plate,” he said. “Win or lose, there’s a lot of really great trainers and great jockeys and a lot of really good horses. Do I think ours are best? Yeah, I think ours are the best. I don’t normally say that, but I think it’s going to be awfully tough to run with Boogaloo at a mile and a quarter.”