The lyrics of Dan Fogleberg’s song Run for the Roses, “the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance,” are well understood in assessing Medina Spirit, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. By measures of pedigree fashion, economic success, or marquee appeal, the dark brown son of Protonico and Mongolian Changa (by Brilliant Speed) was not a star.
But in the Grade 1 classic at Churchill Downs, the colt who cost $1,000 as a short yearling, by an under-appreciated sire and out of a mare who was given away, bucked the odds, flattened the probabilities, and looked like several million dollars as he led from early ’till late and won the Kentucky Derby by a half-length from Mandaloun (Into Mischief).
On pedigree, Medina Spirit is not poorly or even quite obscurely bred. Neither could it be said that his parents are trend setters in bloodstock, at least not until the first Saturday in May.
The colt’s sire is the beautifully pedigreed Protonico, a dark bay son of leading sire Giant’s Causeway out of the A.P. Indy mare Alpha Spirit, a daughter of Chilean champion and U.S. G1 winner Wild Spirit (Hussonet). The latter won a trio of G1s in her homeland for owner-breeder Haras Sumaya, which also bred Alpha Spirit and Protonico, and in the U.S., Wild Spirit won the G1 Ruffian, was second in the G1 Apple Blossom and Personal Ensign.
Protonico’s race record likewise was nothing to sneer at. A three-time winner at the Grade 3 level, the son of Giant’s Causeway stepped to win the G2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs in 2015 as a 4-year-old. In addition, he also ran second in the G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill at three and was third in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont at five.
Perhaps the prejudice against “turf horses” put Protonico in the wrong category, even though he could make a good claim as one of his sire’s best dirt performers.
The colt represents the Storm Cat branch of Northern Dancer through the former’s best stallion son Giant’s Causeway, and this is the second year in a row that a descendant of Storm Cat won the Kentucky Derby after Authentic last year, who comes from Storm Cat through Harlan, Harlan’s Holiday, and Into Mischief.
Whereas agent Gary Young was charged with finding his client a Protonico, and Medina Spirit was the result, the dam’s side of the Derby winner’s pedigree wasn’t a commercial model either until her son began racing.
From the first crop of the Dynaformer stallion Brilliant Speed, Mongolian Changa was a big, scopey yearling who appealed to trainer Wayne Rice, and he purchased the filly for $9,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale in 2015. Racing only at two, Mongolian Changa won a maiden special at Presque Isle in August of her juvenile season and earned $25,970 in six starts.
A reported bowed tendon having ended the filly’s career at that point, Mongolian Changa was sent to Protonico at Taylor Made Farm in 2017, and Gail Rice bred the Kentucky Derby winner from the mare in 2018. Then as part of a divorce, Rice sold the colt as a short yearling for $1,000 to Christy Whitman, who brought the colt back as a 2-year-old in the June sale of horses in training last year that was postponed to July due to the pandemic.
At that sale, Medina Spirit rocked his three-furlong breeze in :33 flat and earned the highest BreezeFig at the distance last year for his performance at the sale. Neither the time nor the fig brought a rush of buyers to Whitman’s barn, but the dark brown colt is a study in how a horse should look when breezing. The breeze video can be seen here.
Gary Young, as agent, acquired the colt for Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stables. Zedan had wanted to buy a juvenile by Protonico because he’s good friend to the owner-breeder of Protonico, Oussama Aboughazale.
Aboughazale owns Haras Sumaya near Santiago, Chile, and is a primary player in the drama that brought Medina Spirit into being and to prominence. In addition to urging his friend to purchase a Protonico 2-year-old, Aboughazale bred and raced the sire, as well as the dam and second dam.
Although at least one Grade 1 victory is nearly a requirement for a term at stud in Kentucky, the owner of Sumaya Stud wanted his horse to stand in Kentucky and backed him each year with mares. That is a difficult push commercially, however, and the horse stood his first season at Taylor Made Farm, where Medina Spirit was conceived, then stood his second season in 2018 at Darby Dan, and has since been resident at Castleton Lyons on Iron Works Pike north of Lexington.
Castleton’s farm manager, Pat Hayes, said that the farm had received more than two dozen requests for seasons in the two days after the Kentucky Derby, and breeders are clearly not having trouble identifying Protonico now that Medina Spirit is a household name.