Medaglia Magic

The name Medaglia d’Oro has become elite in breeding circles, as the sire of the great Rachel Alexandria and the highest-priced yearling ($1,575,000) at the recent Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sales. In short, Medaglia d’Oro has emerged as a powerful force -- in the breeding shed and the sales ring.

This was a natural progression from a successful racing career that saw him win the Travers, Whitney, Oaklawn Handicap, Donn Handicap, Strub Stakes, Jim Dandy, and San Felipe Stakes and finish second twice in the Breeders' Cup Classic, as well as the Belmont Stakes, Dubai World Cup, Wood Memorial, and Pacific Classic.

Medaglia d’Oro ran hard and fast and far, and it took some extraordinary performances by extraordinary horses to beat him.

In addition, Medaglia d’Oro was an imposing physical specimen as a racehorse, with near flawless conformation and dapples bursting from his powerful dark bay frame.

In 2009, majority interest in Medaglia d’Oro was purchased by Darley from Stonewall Stallions and he would prove to be the great buys in recent years.

Although Medaglia d’Oro is one of the highest ranking members of the equine monarchy, he was not "to the manor born." He in fact spent his youth on a farm in Montana and later did his early training literally in the middle of the Arizona desert.

For him to emerge from such humble beginnings and rise to the lofty heights he has is a story that is worth re-telling, especially considering his recent popularity.

Born at Katalpa Farm in Paris, Ky., Medaglia d'Oro was sent to the farm of his owner/breeder, Joyce and Albert Bell, who have a 110-acre spread outside Great Falls, Montana. After being broken, he was about to return to Kentucky for his early training when the Bells' trainer, Kent Jensen, suggested they send him to a small ranch in Arizona, which was located pretty much in the middle of nowhere, between Cave Creek and Carefree.

Running the ranch was Jensen's exercise rider at Turf Paradise, Raland (Ral) Ayers, who worked there with his brother Lance. Jensen had helped them get started, lining up a few yearlings for them to break, and he and Ral would divide their time between the ranch and the racetrack. Lance also galloped horses for trainer Jeff Mullins, and broke eventual Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Buddy Gil.

The Bells agreed to send Medaglia d'Oro to the Arizona ranch, shipping the big, strapping yearling down just after Thanksgiving.

"The day he arrived, he had dapples on him you wouldn't believe," Jensen recalled.

Over the next five months, Medaglia d'Oro grew into a racehorse, but it certainly wasn't the conventional early training one would expect for a future star.

"It was just a little training track out in the middle of nowhere," Jensen recalled. "It didn't even have a rail. When I first saw the place I didn't like it, but it was close enough to Turf Paradise. Ral would take Medaglia d'Oro out and go riding off through the desert, out there with the cactus."

"I can't even remember the name of the place," Ayers said. "It was just a little cowboy ranch."

The next time Medaglia d’Oro would see a desert he was competing halfway around the globe in the world’s richest race.

Ayers and Jensen certainly got more than they bargained for with Medaglia d'Oro.

"He stood out right from the beginning," Ayers recalled. "He had size and was well put together, and was very athletic. People would come to look at the young horses, and they'd always ask, 'Who's that one?'"

Jensen and Ayers began to think that maybe they had something special on their hands; certainly something you wouldn't expect to find running out in the middle of the Arizona desert.

"The first day I had him out on the track for a jog, he bowed his neck and knew exactly what he was supposed to do," Ayers said. "I had to back him up in order to slow him down. He was never intimidated by other horses. He was just a pro from day one. The first time I galloped him, he went between two horses like he'd been doing it all his life. I've never been around a horse with that much class."

As Medaglia d'Oro's training picked up, he continued to amaze Ayers and Jensen.

"He'd go two miles with rings on, then breeze three furlongs in :35 1/5," Jensen recalled. "You just didn't see young horses breeze in :35 1/5 after going two miles. It was nothing to him. He had an unbelievable stride. I trained him like I would a 3-year-old. The first time Ral got on him, he told me, 'This colt is something.' I never train a 2-year-old two miles, but from the first day he stepped foot on the track he wanted to train. You live your life to be around a horse like this. He was something special."

The following April, Medaglia d'Oro was ready to be shipped to the racetrack, and the Bells sent him to trainer Dave Vance. While training at Churchill Downs that fall, he caught the eye of former trainer-turned bloodstock agent Mark Reid, who had just bought a 2-year-old named Labamta Babe for Bobby Frankel and owner Edmund Gann. Reid wasn't in the market for another young horse at the time, having just bought a potential classic prospect for Frankel.

Medaglia d'Oro made his first start on Dec. 7 at Turfway Park and finished second, breaking from the 12 post. Shortly after the race, Vance packed up shop and headed for Oaklawn Park. In February, Reid showed up looking for a new Derby horse for Frankel after Labamta Babe suffered an injury following an impressive victory in the Santa Catalina Stakes.

When Reid ran into Vance at the rail one morning, he told him to keep an eye out for any good-looking 3-year-olds.

"Well, remember that colt you watched train at Churchill last fall?" Vance said. "There's no horse on the grounds who can beat him. He was second first time out, and I'm gonna run him again pretty soon. Watch him and let me know what you think."

When he was entered on Feb. 9, Reid called Frankel and told him to watch this colt. With Reid watching from Philadelphia Park, Medaglia d'Oro won by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:10 4/5 for the six furlongs, earning a sensational 101 Beyer Speed Figure. Frankel was unable to get to a TV and missed the race, but Reid told him this was a horse they definitely wanted to pursue. Frankel saw the huge speed figures the colt posted and gave Reid the green light.

The Bells told Jensen about the offer, and he felt the price they were offering was too good to pass up.

"If I had known he had run a 101 Beyer in that race, I would have told them not to sell," Jensen said, "When they told me it was Frankel who had bought him, I said, 'Well, at least we'll find out how good he really is.'"

And did they ever, as Medaglia d'Oro developed into one of the leading horses in the country, winning grade I stakes at 3, 4, and 5, while earning over $5.7 million. Not many horses have gone from Kentucky to Kentucky by way of Montana and Arizona.

When his daughter Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, mother Goose, Haskell, and Woodward and Gabby's Golden Gal and Payton d'Oro, captured the Acorn Stakes and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, respectively, all within a five-week period, Medaglia's d'Oro's stock soared and he joined the elite band of Sheikh Mohammed's stallions at Darley at Jonabell Farm in Lexington. The Sheikh had always been impressed with the horse and the quality of his sales yearlings and 2-year-olds. Earlier that year, Darley had purchased a sale-topping son of Medaglia d’Oro for $1.6 million at the Calder 2-year-old sale.

Three years later, Medaglia d’Oro is one of the most sought-after stallions in the world. And it all began on a little ranch in the middle of the Arizona desert.     

13 Comments

Leave a Comment:

JayJay

Nice article once again (you're probably tired of hearing that lol), I love the fact that the owners actually used a cowboy ranch, I bet Ral probably have fond memories of Medaglia D'Oro.

Steve : Any chance you'll do a story on Darley / Godolphin empire ?  I'm thinking there's some great story there somewhere...  with so much money, i bet their horses lives a better life than I do lol.  Thanks.

10 Aug 2012 1:36 AM
robinm

Steve; thank you for writing about this marvelous horse.  I had never heard of his early life and training.  He certainly traveled an unusual route to greatness.  He was and is an absolutely beautiful physical specimen, and he ran to his looks.  I can't remember a race where he didn't show up; in fact my recollection is that he was 1st or 2nd in all but a very few starts.  In addition, he was sound and durable and we had the great pleasure of enjoying him on the track for 4 years, something we rarely see today if a horse has a top race record and bloodlines.

From all appearances thus far, he is as accomplished in the breeding shed as he was on the track. We may never see another Rachel Alexandra, but I look forward to seeing many more top runners by Medaglia d'Oro for years to come.

10 Aug 2012 2:28 AM
anita b

Hi Steve,

Great article. Like the fact that he grew up on a ranch in Montana first then Arizona.

And would like to read about Darley.

I was a little surprised that the filly hip#11--closely related to Rachel Alexandra didn't sell/meet reserve. She would have been one I would have liked to seen.

Enjoy Saratoga, Steve. Anita

10 Aug 2012 11:06 AM
CHIEF PICAWINNA

In another few months after the Breeders Cup all the combatants(on this blog) will be back to argue their cases for the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Some will choose to make their picks this year and stick with them all the way thru to the race, tailoring their arguements, and making excuses for their picks.I will restate my idea that any 2yo derby prospects that were purchased solely for the Triple Crown, should only train this year, and not race until 2013 or even December 2012.The template I am using is Bafferts handling of Bodemeister this year.The training combined with the stress of racing does not suit the American racing colt of 2012-2013.The training if done properly like  master 3yo trainer Bob Baffert will give the colt a better chance to peak in the Triple Crown and not be cranked for races too early in their 2yo year.Having written this their are not many owners who will pass on the lucrative 2yo races this year.Their are also not many trainers that can execute this plan.

10 Aug 2012 12:53 PM
Wrensflight

Perhaps more young horses should be trained by "riding out in the desert." They would probably be more fit both physically and mentally if they were given the opportunity to work over some real terrain and get out and about. Too many hothouse flowers out there these days.

Thanks again, Steve, for providing that inside peek into the personal history of a great horse.

10 Aug 2012 1:55 PM
Paseana

Thanks, Steve, for this.  Medaglia d'Oro was probably one of the most underappreciated horses EVER.  Robinm is right....he was out of the exacta only twice in 17 career starts, and those two races were only the Kentucky Derby & Preakness!

I think that this underappreciation stems from the completely misguided perception out there that he was distance-challenged at greater than 9f.  Poppycock!

True, he was only 1 for 6 at 10f or more, but that's only a small part of the story.  3 of those defeats were seconds behind horses that absolutely freaked, whether flukishly (Sarava & Volponi) or not (Candy Ride).  The other two were against one of the best true 10f horses we've seen in the last 20 years or so, Pleasantly Perfect.  And Medaglia d'Oro just might have won that BC Classic if the brilliant and extremely stubborn Congaree had stayed in the barn that day!

By the way, it needs to be remembered that, in the Pacific Classic, Medaglia d'Oro broke Del Mar's 10f track record....finishing second by open lengths to Candy Ride.  Sure doesn't look to me like a horse that's distance-challenged!  It also goes to show what an other-worldly race Candy Ride ran that day!

And one other thing.  I lost my lifetime PPs on Medaglia d'Oro, but I seem to recall that he ran less than a triple-digit Beyer only twice, I think.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

One the breeding front, it will be interesting to watch Medaglia d'Oro's yearlings this year as they move forward as 2 & 3yos.  They are the product of his 2010 book of mares which exploded in quality in the wake of the exploits of Rachel Alexandra and all the other GSW fillies (mostly) of 2009.

As mentioned before, it's unlikely we'll ever see another Rachel Alexandra, but this should still be fun to watch!

Love that handsome boy!  Thanks again Steve!

10 Aug 2012 3:25 PM
edrul427

Who would have imagine this young colt running in Montana and then in Arizona would become such a wonderful horse and champion racehorse and then champion stallion.WOW. Wonderful story Steve

10 Aug 2012 4:04 PM
kincsem

I agree, Wrensflight - kinda like the unconventional approach used in Seayyle Slew's early training by Paula Turner.A comment made by Doug O'neill after Know More won the Best Pal at Del Mar, was that the horse didn't need to race that much as a two year old, due to the new structure of qualifying for the KY Derby. Thank God!Maybe it's bt design or maybe it just is an unplanned blessing, but there is no real reason to push talented 2 year olds as in years past. hallelujah!

10 Aug 2012 4:40 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Medaglia never came in third. He was 4th in the Kentucky Derby, and 8th in the Preakness. Other than that he was first or second in every race. Eight firsts and seven seconds in seventeen races, all Grade One or Grade Two except for his first two races which were maiden. Humdinger of a racehorse and humdinger of a sire with plenty more to come. Gotta love those dapples. When you see Medaglia d'Oro in the pedigree you better pay attention. Humdinger of an article too need I say. Tough name to spell right everytime. I've spelled Medaglia wrong numerous times and will again I'm sure.

10 Aug 2012 5:45 PM
Karen in Texas

Medaglia d'Oro was one of my favorites while on the track, and his success at stud is a pleasure to follow. As I picture him galloping the ranges of Montana and Arizona, I can't help but think of our King Ranch thoroughbreds, Assault and Middleground. Maybe there is something to be gained by a "ranch life" regimen...

Thanks, Steve, for the retirement story on Star Guitar as well. He will be missed as a competitor in this south/southwestern region.

10 Aug 2012 6:40 PM
smarie

I remember reading an interview with Bob Baffert. They were discussing the trainer's remarkable career and all the great horses he'd trained. When asked if there was a horse he'd really wanted in his barn but didn't get, Baffert answered, "Medaglia d'Oro."

I think horses who get unconventional training methods, whether it be small desert tracks or long rides through the countryside have an advantage over those who get the standard training on nothing but conventional racetrack surfaces and conditions.

Enjoyed this article very much!

10 Aug 2012 7:52 PM
Alexandra Boyd

One of my favorite stallions. Love watching for his offspring. He also makes horses with such beautifal markings.

11 Aug 2012 6:16 PM
LittleGuyOwner

There's a lot to be said for first training a horse to have confidence and build true fitness before ever dumping him on a racetrack.  A confident, mentally fit horse has the potential to be a far better athlete than one who is trained in the typical 23/7 fashion of today.  Too bad more horses aren't trained this way, instead of like hot-house plants.

13 Aug 2012 1:24 PM

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