You may not ordinarily associate the name “Bob Baffert” and the term “inexpensive horse”, but in this context in particular it’s beneficial to remember the Kentucky Derby’s winningest trainer’s modest beginnings in the sport. His first Derby winner, Silver Charm, wasn’t quite as bargain bin-priced as 2021 winner Medina Spirit – but at $85,000, in racehorse terms he may as well have been. It’s safe to say, then, that he, like most of the eventers reading this, is not one to turn up a nose at a modestly priced horse that might not have caught the eye if you saw him in the flesh.
It’s just one reason why this year’s plucky colt who showed tenacity and grit on the homestretch on Saturday makes for a movie-ready story. Medina Spirit (Prontico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed) was first sold for just $1,000 – the minimum bid at the 2019 Ocala Breeders Sale where the colt was listed as a yearling. Bred in Florida by Gail Rice, who calls upon the generations of horse knowledge in her family to run a small breeding operation and select lesser-known matches, the then-unnamed colt by the freshman sire Prontico only caught the eye of one bidder at the January OBS sale. Christy Whitman of Whitman Sales was on the hunt for bargains, and the colt with the great walk and the correct angles ticked the boxes on her checklist. One minimum bid later, and Christy had herself the find of a lifetime.
Watch Medina Spirit’s appearance at OBS in 2019, where he sold for $1,000:
Eventually, Christy with the help of exercise rider Jose Gallego would bring the inner talent of the dark bay colt to light, selling him to now-owner Amr Zedan of Zedan Racing Stables for the still paltry and unchallenged amount of $35,000 via bloodstock Agent Gary Young. The thing that caught Amr’s eye? The colt’s sire, Prontico – not a particularly well-known sire in his own right – had been campaigned by his friend, Oussama Aboughazale.
Amr named the colt Medina Spirit after his and Oussama’s hometown and the prominent Islamic pilgrimage site in Saudi Arabia. After first going to Bob Baffert’s program under his Los Alamitos assistant, Mike Marlow, Medina Spirit quickly showed his worth stretched far beyond his purchase price. It’s even said that the colt gave Bob Baffert inklings of his predecessor, Silver Charm.
So it may not have been the sleek champion Essential Quality or the highly touted Mandaloun who would take the crown on the first Saturday in May. Rather, it’s a reminder of something that all in the equestrian world know well: a true measure of a horse’s worth lies not in their monetary value but in their heart. And it’s this gutsy little horse who kicked out to the lead on the biggest racing stage in the country, fought his heart out to keep his streak of not allowing other horses to pass him alive, and crossed the wire ahead of three hard-charging challengers.
It was the stuff movies and dreams are made of – in fact, Medina Spirit’s breeder Gail Rice perhaps said it best: “This is a passion, but when it comes to fruition like this, how can it be more validating? You don’t have to have a lot of money. When God gives you his favor, it doesn’t matter where you came from,” she said.
Watch the replay: