PHOTO: Benoit Photography
HOW HE GOT HERE
Medina Spirit cemented his spot in the Derby gate following a 2nd place finish in The Santa Anita Derby, finishing 4.5 lengths off the winner Rock Your World. Medina Spirit competed in four different graded stakes in SoCal since the start of the year after breaking his maiden on debut at Los Alamitos in a 3-length win with huge gallop out.
The first of those stakes’ races, The Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita was a matchup against Life is Good, the top prospect in Baffert’s barn at the time. Medina was put into chase mode after Life is Good powerfully went to the lead but in this strung-out field put in a nice gaining rally in the stretch to nearly catch Life is Good, losing by less than ¾ lengths. Four weeks later, Medina Spirit returned to a Life is Good-less Robert B Lewis Stakes, where this time, with little pace presence was sent to the lead, set hot fractions, and come the stretch looked like fellow Derby Contender Hot Rod Charlie and stretch running Roman Centurian were going to blow by. Instead, from the inside, Medina Spirit found more, after three splits of TimeFormUS red coded fractions he set and with taking pressure from the inside. This was a really impressive win. Next up was the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, this time, with Life is Good back in the field. Medina stalked, again with Life is Good just too fast early for anyone to challenge. But, like the RB Lewis, Medina was super game, this time not letting Dream Shake by in a long stretch duel and finished a good 2nd. Big thing to know here, it was discovered after this race that he had an entrapped epiglottis (obstructs breathing) that required surgery to correct.
With Life is Good off the Kentucky Derby Trail, Medina Spirit went off the odds-on favorite in the Santa Anita Derby. This time, it appeared the lead was possible early, but was floated a little wide in the first turn allowing Rock Your World to scoot to a length lead and Medina Spirit stayed in a pressing position outside of three runners. Note, the track had a pretty clear front running and inside bias on this day, so this trip was not to his favor. Although Rock your World took advantage of the situation (trip, lone lead, and bias), Medina Spirit again showed fight, again fighting off Dream Shake who appeared loaded on the inside, to again finish 2nd.
In a nut shell, in Medina Spirit’s journey to the Kentucky Derby, he has a trait you want in a contender, and that is he has never been passed in the stretch of a race. He has shown toughness and tries every time and the entrapped epiglottis is a legit excuse to consider when asking, “will this horse improve”?
HOW HE FITS HERE
Medina Spirit has had steady Beyer Speed Figures (BSF) in the 90’s this year, but top figure was the first race of the year, The Sham with a 99 BSF. The top BSF in the Derby Field is 102, by Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. On Thorograph, the horse has also been consistent in figures (3.1 / 3.2 / 3.1 / 3 from earliest to recent) but with the excuses mentioned in trip recaps above, I personally do not see the figures as a reflection of a horse that has peaked. Top Thorograph figure in the Derby field is Essential Quality with a “0” (lower the better on Thorograph).
The big question, with recent big pace contenders withdrawing, is “who will be going to the lead”. If you look at what Medina Spirit did on the lead in The Robert B Lewis, the fact the horse has not allowed any horse to pass in the stretch in any of his starts, and that there is no Life is Good in this race, there is a chance we could see Medina Spirit on the lead on May 1st and the connections hope the toughness prevails.
Medina Spirit has lost to Life is Good twice, who if was healthy and going to the Derby would be your heavy favorite, and to Rock Your World who benefitted from track bias where Medina Spirit was running against the bias. Medina Spirit is a horse that certainly fits as a “contender” in this field and could be major value at 10-1 or higher.
PEDIGREE AND CONNECTIONS
What is so bizarre about this horse and his success, is this is not the normal high six-figure horse for Bob Baffert. Medina Spirit was sold as a yearling for $1,000 at The OBS Winter Sale. With the help of bloodstock agent and clocker, Gary Young, Zedan Racing purchased Medina Spirit as a two-year-old for a mere $35,000 (lowest sales price as a 1 and 2YO in the field).
A big reason for the low sales price is simply, the horse was from a first crop sire, Protonico, and he is the first out of lightly raced mare Mongolia Changa. Prontico has produced 9 runners totaling 32 starts with a 16%-win rate and 41% in the money. He is a Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway and was trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. He retired with a career record of 7-1-2 from 16 starts with earnings just short of one million dollars. Protonico was produced by Alpha Spirit (sired by A.P. Indy) who only raced twice, but his 2nd Dam Wild Spirit was a three-time Group 1 winner in Chile before coming to the states to run under Bobby Frankel. Wild Spirit went 5: 3-1-1 all in graded stakes action, including a win in the 2003 G1 Ruffian Stakes at Belmont Park, won by a 3+ lengths as the odds-on favorite.
A sneaky good pedigree, with tons of distance influence on both sides for Medina Spirit, where public perception may be that breeding is light due to low sales price and lesser-known sire.
Some of what is gained in value from pedigree may be lost with the power of the Bob Baffert name in any big race. Baffert is going for record #7 Kentucky Derby wins, where he is presently tied with Ben Jones at 6. He has won 3 of the last 6 Derby’s, which 2 included triple crown winners. Baffert is nearing $320 million in career purse earnings and is a 4x Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Trainer. John Velazquez jumped on as the jockey two races back in The San Felipe and also rode in last for The Santa Anita Derby. Johnny V will retain the mount and look for his 4th Kentucky Derby win, which would put him 1 off tying the record of 5 by Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack. Johnny’s last two Derby wins came in gate to wire fashion, a possible tactic here with Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit is owned by Zedan Racing who came onto the scene in 2016 and have had some early success with their runners, Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies runner Princess Noor, and now Medina Spirit. The group also has two other promising runners for Baffert that have yet to debut, 3 YO Lulos and a 2021 $1.7M 2-year-old purchase of Neddmore Guns. I have a feeling this will be the first of many Derby trail horses for this ownership group.
If you think Medina Spirit has a chance to be loose on the lead in this field, you have to love his chance. If you feel Life is Good was the best Derby prospect, you have to love Medina Spirit’s chance. What I like most is, I do see this as a horse that has plenty of reasons to show improvement in figures, where public could see opposite. The sneaky good pedigree (especially for distance), more losses than wins on record, and horse traveling for the first time may also help in getting the most out of the price for Medina Spirit. I have fair odds at ~8/1 for this runner with high likelihood of getting double digit odds.
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