06/29/2017 10:30AM

State of Honor giving owners a classic experience

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Michael Burns
State of Honor will become just the fifth horse in the last 50 years to run in the Kentucky Derby and the Queen's Plate.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – State of Honor will join an exclusive club on Sunday at Woodbine in the $1 million Queen’s Plate: He will become just the fifth horse in the last 50 years to run in both the Kentucky Derby and the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Owners Manfred and Penny Conrad of Conrad Farms certainly are enjoying the ride.

“We’re very excited to be in another big race,” Manfred Conrad said.

State of Honor will be the couple’s second starter in the Queen’s Plate, following Leavem in Malibu, who ran sixth behind Sir Dudley Digges last year. The Conrads have had a lot of recent success with Mark Casse, who trains Leavem in Malibu and State of Honor, but they are still relatively new to horse ownership, having bought their first broodmares and yearlings during sales in Ontario and in Kentucky in 2009. Penny Conrad said a neighbor got them involved in the sport.

“I had a neighbor, Patricia Martin, and she would take me along to the racetrack,” she said. “I thought if I ever had the time and we had the money, that we would buy a couple of broodmares and go from there.”

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The Conrads have built up a strong stable of homebreds and auction purchases in a short period of time. They have five broodmares and own about 17 racehorses on their own or in partnership. Along with State of Honor, the Conrads own the stakes-placed runners Jennifer Lynnette and Sailing Home and have a number of 2-year-olds getting ready to debut.

“We’re excited about the year coming up,” Penny Conrad said. “We have a small band of horses, but we’ve done really well.”

State of Honor, a homebred, has taken the Conrads to places they never thought they would reach in racing. He won his maiden at Woodbine last October in his fifth start and then finished second in the Coronation Futurity to close out his 2-year-old campaign.

He remained in training in Florida over the winter and really began to excel while racing on dirt. He finished second in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January, third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and second in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. The Conrads made it to each of State of Honor’s starts and have been pleased with his progress.

The Conrads said they had no aspirations of running in the Kentucky Derby, but State of Honor earned enough qualifying points to make the starting gate by finishing second to Always Dreaming in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in April. Always Dreaming went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

“We didn’t really know that we were headed for the Kentucky Derby,” Penny Conrad said. “It was a surprise to us. In the Florida Derby, when he came second, all of the sudden Mark said, ‘We’re going to Kentucky.’ ”

State of Honor set the pace in the Kentucky Derby but faded to 19th. Despite the result, Manfred Conrad said the couple enjoyed the experience at Churchill Downs.

“We didn’t really know what the Kentucky Derby was like,” he said. “I had really never been there, and I knew it was a big horse race, but I had no idea how important it was for the industry and what a tradition it has. It was quite exciting.”

Since the Kentucky Derby, State of Honor has been training well at Woodbine. He finished third in the Plate Trial on June 11 and now has his sights set on the Queen’s Plate. The Conrads are hoping for a big performance.

“He’s training really well up here,” Penny Conrad said. “We’re just delighted.”

But even if things do not work out for State of Honor in the Queen’s Plate, the Conrads could be back soon. They are making improvements to their farm that could enhance their operation for the long term. They’ve acquired property around their original farm in Wellesley Township, Ontario, and now own more than 400 acres. The broodmares have previously foaled at Mike Carroll’s Grandview Farms, but the Conrads will be building a new barn on their property, have hired help, and are hoping to have the mares on their farm beginning this fall.

“We’re really looking forward to having [the mares] at home,” Penny Conrad said. “It’s all been a dream to us.”