HOW HE GOT HERE
The steady improvement of Pioneer of Medina has allowed him to become the final horse in the Kentucky Derby field. A scopey colt with a tried-and-true classic pedigree, he plodded home to two in-the-money finishes in his first two starts – one sprinting on dirt and one going two turns on the Tapeta at Gulfstream Park. He was then shipped west a few hours to tackle a two-turn dirt maiden at Tampa Bay Downs, where he stalked the pace before taking the lead around the turn and drawing off to victory. The figures he posted there weren’t outstanding (66 Beyer) and actually regressed from his most previous run, but nevertheless he was shipped to Fair Grounds for a first-level allowance on Lecomte Stakes day. Sent off at 7/1 off the mediocre maiden score, he went wire-to-wire under Florent Geroux and beat a handful of stakes experienced rivals.
He then was stepped up to the Derby trail for his next start for a try in the Risen Star S. (G2) back at Fair Grounds. Once again overlooked in the betting, he subtly prompted the pace of Epicenter before entering the stretch, where he then conceded victory to that runner and was also run down by Zandon and Smile Happy. As we now know, no race on the Kentucky Derby prep schedule has been as productive as the Risen Star. In addition to the three who beat him running well in their final preps, 5th place finisher Tawny Port went on to win the Lexington S. (G3) and 6th place finisher Slow Down Andy scored in the Sunland Derby (G3).
For his final run before the Kentucky Derby, Pioneer of Medina made his third straight appearance in New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby (G3). Once again he found himself pressing the pace, this time sitting just off of Zozos, before being passed up by Epicenter down the lane and chugging along for a third-place finish.
HOW HE FITS HERE
In his two starts against high level horses, Pioneer of Medina hasn’t disgraced himself. However, he also has made zero impressions he could reverse that form and find the winners’ circle. He worked out perfect trips in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, where he sat within a length of very slow fractions on both occasions, but both failed to pass the pace setter and also allowed off-the-pace types to get past him.
There are two non-tangible things that I also find interesting in regards to Pioneer of Medina. To start, he has continued to improve on Beyers. From a 66 on debut, to an 80 in that allowance win, he then posted a 93 and 96 in his two stakes starts, respectively. These numbers and improve definitely put him in contention to compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The other factor to analyze is the kind of trip he’ll likely get. Pioneer of Medina has found himself in some really advantageous positions in his last four starts, which certainly set up his good performances. However, he doesn’t seem to possess the pure early speed that a Summer is Tomorrow, Classic Causeway, or Messier has, which will automatically put him further off the pace than he has been in his best career efforts.
— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) April 30, 2022
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Pioneer of Medina marks the last of three probable runners for trainer Todd Pletcher. He is a two-time Kentucky Derby winner from 59 starters, and has garnered a bit of a reputation for stacking the Derby starting gate with mediocre runners. This colt followed a similar path of Pletcher’s to finding a Derby spot – took some time to figure it out at two, found lighter races to gain experience at three, and finally gain enough points by running underneath in major prep races.
Pioneer of Medina is definitely one of the best bred horses in this year’s Derby field, especially when it comes to getting 1 1/4 miles. He is from the final crop of Pioneerof the Nile, most notably the sire of Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, but in general a very solid stamina-building stallion. On the other side, Pioneer of Medina is out of Lights of Medina, who was inches away from taking out the Black Eyed Susan Stakes as a runner.
Improvement is required for Pioneer of Medina to factor in any sense for this year’s Kentucky Derby. That being said, he has shown those gains in each of his most recent starts, perhaps suggesting a peak performance coming up on the First Saturday in May. He’ll also have the right connections and pedigree behind him, so the only excuses he’ll be able to find is not getting the right trip and/or not having enough talent.
I do think a lot of his performance will rely on what kind of early positioning Pioneer of Medina can find. As previously mentioned, he’s been very forwardly placed in his races to this point, but will likely find himself further back this time around. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps sitting a few lengths off the lead could play into his hands from both a race dynamics standpoint, as well as his “grind away” running style.