Against the brutal confines of the commercial market, it is still comforting to know that the belief of one person can be enough for a horse to wend his way to success.
There were several such examples at the weekend. At Salisbury, Imad Al Sagar’s Silver Bullet Lady overcame notable greenness to score in the two-year-old fillies conditions race and provide her sire Decorated Knight with a flying start at stud. It obviously remains very early days for Decorated Knight, whose first crop of 45 are two-year-olds, but the fact that he has already thrown such a promising individual will be warmly celebrated by Al Sagar, who continues to invest heavily into giving his sire every chance.
In Kentucky, meanwhile, the belief of Oussama Aboughazale in the potential of his homebred Protonico is being repaid in spades. Aboughazale, a resident of Chile whose family is the majority shareholder of the fresh produce division of Del Monte Fruit Company, raced Protonico to Grade 2 success before standing him at a variety of locations in Kentucky. Such was the limited early interest in Protonico that there are only 19 named foals in his first crop, five of whom sold for an average of $6,100 as yearlings in 2019.
And now one of them happens to be Saturday’s Kentucky Derby hero Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit’s story is one that should resonate with those smaller owners and breeders seeking to keep the dream alive. Bred in Florida by Gail Rice, whose tiny broodmare band also yielded last year’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes heroine Speech, the colt is the first foal out of minor winner Mongolian Changa and the only black-type winner under his first three dams.
Sent to the 2019 OBS January Sale in Florida, he was hammered down on the minimum bid of $1,000 to Christy Whitman, who was looking for an inexpensive horse for one of her exercise riders, Jose Gallego, to pinhook. The colt returned under Whitman’s banner at last year’s OBS July Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale and with a breeze of :33 flat for three furlongs under his belt, sold for $35,000. The price hovered around the sale’s average but it made him the most expensive youngster by Protonico to pass through a sale ring, an appropriate result given that his buyer, Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stables, was acting through agent Gary Young on the advice of his good friend Oussama Aboughazale.
Earlier that spring, Zedan had paid $1.35 million for a first-crop daughter of Not This Time. Named Princess Noor and sent to Bob Baffert, she swiftly lived up to that billing by taking the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes.
By the time she was retired with a career-ending injury in December, the Protonico colt, Medina Spirit, had yet to race. But he quickly filled the void left by her retirement, winning his debut at Los Alamitos in December and the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in January. A terrier of a horse who quietly remained on track for the Kentucky Derby as various other hyped Baffert trainees fell by the wayside, he arrived at Churchill Downs off the back of a second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and was able to put his early pace to good use, breaking fast under Johnny Velazquez to dictate the pace before holding off the late challenges of Mandaloun and Essential Quality.
And with that, if the industry didn’t know who Protonico was before Saturday, they certainly do now.
Protonico is a well-bred horse, being a son of Giant’s Causeway and out of Alpha Spirit, an A.P. Indy daughter of Aboughazale’s Chilean Horse of the Year Wild Spirit.
Aboughazale bred Wild Spirit out of Wild Princess, a Wild Again mare who won a Leicester maiden for Luca Cumani. Wild Princess was culled out of Edward Evans’ broodmare band in 1997 and picked up by Aboughazale through Carlos Moore for just $10,000, was sent to Chile where – to the cover of Hussonet – she foaled Wild Spirit, a multiple Group 1 scorer in Chile and winner of the 2003 Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap for Bobby Frankel in the US.
Her daughter Alpha Spirit didn’t show much in two starts but in Protonico, she foaled a tough and high-class horse who won seven of 16 races including the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes and a trio of Grade 3 events for Todd Pletcher. He was also second in the 2014 Grade 1 Clark Handicap.
Protonico was a winner at two but thrived as an older horse. A lack of a Grade 1 win also played against him as perhaps did the fact that he was one of three sons of Giant’s Causeway to enter stud in Kentucky for the 2017 season alongside Not This Time and Brody’s Cause.
Whatever the issue, he attracted just 34 mares in his debut season at $6,500 at Taylor Made Farm, which resulted in 19 foals.
In 2018, he was switched to Darby Dan Farm and covered a 51-strong book that resulted in 35 foals – an improvement but still far removed from the numbers covered by some of his contemporaries.
Today, Protonico resides at Castleton Lyons at a fee of $5,000. There are 19 yearlings by him on the ground and he covered 16 mares in 2020.
Medina Spirit is one of three winners from ten runners for his sire so far, and his exploits have ensured that Protonico now sits at the top of the leading North American second-crop sires’ list, ahead of the likes of Frosted, Runhappy, Nyquist and Exaggerator, all of whom covered full books at $25,000 or above in their debut seasons.
Medina Spirit is the first foal out of Mongolian Changa, herself the daughter of another sparsely used Kentucky stallion in Brilliant Speed.
Brilliant Speed was a Grade 1 performer on turf, dirt and the all-weather, enjoying his finest moment when successful in the 2011 Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on Keeneland’s Polytrack. He was a more refined version of his coarse sire Dynaformer and was the son chosen to take that stallion’s place at Three Chimneys Farm when he retired in 2013, a year on from Dynaformer’s death. However, he wasn’t popular, siring just 94 foals in four seasons, and was standing for just $5,000 when killed by a lightning strike in 2016.
Brilliant Speed left behind three minor stakes winners and Mongolian Changa, who won a maiden at Presque Isle Downs as a two-year-old for the Rices, is his only stakes-producing daughter.
In what is a notably light immediate family, Mongolian Changa is out of the unplaced Bridled, by Unbridled, and a granddaughter of minor stakes winner Scoop The Gold, the dam of Grade 1 winner and former Coolmore stallion High Yield. Delve deeper into the further generations and it is the family of European champion two-year-old Forest Flower and Night Of Thunder.
Rice moved Mongolian Changa on following Medina Spirit’s lowly yearling sale at OBS. The mare has not produced a reported foal since then but is now in the hands of Taylor Made Farm and in foal to their successful young stallion Not This Time.