The fastest times ever run in any of the Breeders’ Cup Turf races were reeled off by a thoroughbred that might not have survived birth.
The story of the early-life problems of the Irish thoroughbred Conduit were at the usually placid Ballymacoll Stud Farm in County Meath.
Conduit was foaled in March of 2005, the son of the sire, Dalakhani, and his dam, Well Head.
Well Head died not long after Conduit was foaled.
The little, all-legs chestnut was bottle-fed by the cooperative staff of workers at Ballymacoll. Some time later, a mare was found to be a foster mother and the farm workers could put away their bottles and return to other duties.
As Conduit grew and matured, he was given his place in a roomy paddock with other yearlings. He was a late-comer to a field where a pecking order or a ranking had been established by the others.
Ballymacoll workers soon saw that young Conduit was being bullied while trying to adjust to his new surroundings. Doing the bullying was a colt named Tartan Bearer, later an entry in some of the same Group I races where Conduit had been entered.
Staff people moved the chestnut to another paddock where his physical health and psyche were less troubled.
Soon after, his training regimen was begun with Sir Michael Stoute accepting that assignment from Ballymacoll. The schooling and classes were conducted at the Freemason Lodge Stables in Newmarket, Suffolk.
Stoute worked through an untroubled spell of months. And before long, Conduit was ready for the beginning of his two-year-old season. That was in 2007. And it was still in Europe.
The jockey chosen for him was Ryan Moore. Moore would ride in all but two of Conduit’s lifetime races.
European competition takes place on turf courses. The races are run in the opposite direction as the ones in North America. Some of the courses have slight up-hill grades in the finishing furlongs. Some of the layouts have uneven ground. But everybody knows about the nuances and variances they face and their thoroughbreds will see.
Conduit was hardly impressive in his racing debut. He was unplaced.
In less than a month, another race was attempted. The second time went better and he finished third after making a belated run through the stretch at Kempton.
It was Conduit’s third trip that produced the first win of his career. At Wolverhampton, he was well-placed behind a decent pace before moving quickly to a lead he would keep.
One win. In three races.
As a 3-year-old, trainer Stoute and Ballymacool were enthused by Conduit’s on-track progress.
He was third in a minor handicap. His next race was in a handicap at the much-recognized Epsom course. Jockey Moore had Conduit in last place before guiding him to the outside and around all of the field and on to a six-length win.
After a bump-filled second-place finish in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, it was off to the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood. As the odds-on favorite, Conduit turned in a winning but unimpressive performance against a small field.
Next came the more-anticipated St. Leger Stakes with its stellar field of European luminaries. The Irish Derby champion was on hand. So was the Oaks winner. Conduit went to the post in the St. Leger at odds of 8-1.
Trainer Stoute had two entries in the St. Leger and jockey Moore said he would ride Doctor Fremantle instead of Conduit. The flamboyant Frenchman, Frankie Dettori, had the ride on Conduit.
Dettori and the smooth-striding chestnut were far back toward the rear of the pack before beginning an unimpeded move through the backstretch that engulfed the rest of the field and had the twosome on the lead with fully two furlongs to run.
The balance of the race went on smoothly for Conduit and Dettori. At the wire, they were in front by three lengths and Stoute was overjoyed because he had never won the race in his other 23 tries. After his trademark flying dismount, Dettori was ready to celebrate his fifth win in the St. Leger.
Stoute’s plan for Conduit had been to give the late-running chestnut some months of rest without any more races. But when Conduit emerged from the race in perfect health, he began to think seriously about flying to California for the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf at the cull-the-pretenders distance of 12 furlongs (a mile and a half).
Picturesque Santa Anita, with its purple-hued mountains as a backdrop, hosted that year’s Breeders’ Cup events.
The fast turf course suited Conduit just fine.
With Moore back aboard, Conduit was well within himself for about the first mile. Even as late as the head of the stretch, he was in ninth place. But he was sailing along on clear ground on the outside of all the others. His late-race charge was a clean one and he had a length-and-a-half win for Moore, Stoute and Ballymacoll.
The time was a record 2:23.42, fastest ever in the 25 runnings of the Turf.
As a 4-year-old in 2009, Conduit had two early races where he finished second and then third.
England’s sometimes contentious, sometimes law-breaking race-betting element must have still seen Conduit as the horse to be feared in any race where he was entered.
Ballymacoll Stud started receiving a series of transmitted threats against Conduit’s life if he were to be entered in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The authorities were alerted to the threats and tightened security was given Conduit as he vanned to the race. None of the threats were actually carried out, but a man was arrested and convicted on the charge of “threatening to damage property.”
Conduit won the race.
Amongst much speculation in the British press, the rumor mill persisted that he wouldn’t be returned to America and Santa Anita to defend his Breeders’ Cup Turf championship from 2008.
The rumors were wrong. And horrors that be, the press was wrong. Back across the broad Atlantic Ocean, Conduit and company came.
Against six competitors, he won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in the race’s second-fastest time of 2:23.75 — just missing his own record.
One more race was on Stoute’s schedule. It was the Japan Cup at 12 furlongs in Tokyo. Conduit was fourth with the winner’s time being a quick 2:22.40.
Upon his retirement from racing, he was sent to the Big Red Farm in Japan as a sire. His first foals were born in 2011 and have not yet reached racing age.
Conduit had lost his mother as a newborn, had been bullied as a youngster by another yearling, and had been threatened with death if he ran in an important European race.
But he won two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Turf races, and completed a 15-race career with earnings of 3,551,847 pounds.