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Medaglia d'Oro - The Golden Boy

By John P. Sparkman September 30 2010

Rachel Alexandra helps make Medaglia d'Oro a hot commercial property

IN THE 74-year history of America's official Horse of the Year award, only five stallions have sired a Horse of the Year in their first crop. As shown in the accompanying box, one of those five, the great Bull Lea, surpassed all others by siring two, Twilight Tear and Armed, in his first crop.

Since Bull Lea sired a record four individual Horses of the Year, he is perhaps an unfair standard of comparison, but the most recent sire of a first-crop Horse of the Year, Medaglia d'Oro, may have a better chance than most to repeat the feat. Medaglia d'Oro's sensational start at stud resulted in the purchase of a majority interest by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, and the now 11-year-old stallion is certain to cover only the best of mares at the Sheikh's Darley Stud.

Bred in Kentucky by Albert and Joyce Bell, Medaglia d'Oro did not make his racecourse debut until December 7, 2001, when he ran second in Joyce Bell's colors to Spicey Marcloud in a six-furlong maiden race at Turfway Park. With that experience under his girth, running away from a field of three- and four-year-olds over the same distance at Oaklawn Park on February 9, 2002, proved the easiest of tasks.

Medaglia d'Oro ran a fast enough time under the conditions, 1:10.97, to attract the attention of the "sheets" boys, and agent Mark Reid concluded a private deal to purchase the El Prado (Ire) colt on behalf of Edmund A. Gann. Transferred to trainer Bobby Frankel, he made his first start for Gann in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) on March 17.

His performance was a revelation. Medaglia d'Oro outran odds-on favorite Siphonic to the first turn and never looked back, drawing off down the homestretch for a 2 1/2-length victory over U S S Tinosa. The Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) suited Medaglia d'Oro's schedule better than the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but he lost a long duel with Buddha, beaten a head over the nine furlongs.

That form was plenty good enough to make him joint second favorite behind Harlan's Holiday in a wide open Kentucky Derby (G1), but neither Medaglia d'Oro nor anything else in the field could catch the front-running War Emblem. Medaglia d'Oro would doubtless have finished closer than fourth, beaten eight lengths, however, had he not bobbled at the start and then engaged in a bumping match down the lane the first time and again at the head of the stretch.

War Emblem repeated the dose in the Preakness Stakes (G1), where Medaglia d'Oro ran the only bad race of his career. Third early, he had no response in the stretch and finished eighth, beaten about 18 lengths. Medaglia d'Oro proved that performance was too bad to be true in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He stalked the early pace of Wiseman's Ferry, repelled War Emblem's brief challenge on the final turn, but then could not hold off Sarava's charge, finishing second by a half length, 9 1/2 lengths in front of third finisher Sunday Break (Jpn).

Medaglia d'Oro was clearly one of the best three-year-olds of the year, and after the Belmont Frankel was able to space his races the way he liked. The colt rewarded him with two powerful performances in the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1) Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

Those two performances made him a 2.70-to-1 favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), and for a brief moment at the head of the stretch, it appeared he would reward his backers, but longshot Volponi stormed past in the final furlong for a 6 1/2-length win, as Medaglia d'Oro held on for second by a half length over Milwaukee Brew.

Consistency

That defeat deprived Medaglia d'Oro of both Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old honors, as voters opted to reward War Emblem's early-season brilliance. For the next year and a half, though, Medaglia d'Oro was the most consistent horse in the country and at worst the second best older horse.

He began his four-year-old season romps in the Strub Stakes (G2) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2).

With the Breeders' Cup the goal again, Frankel gave him three months off before Medaglia d'Oro took his revenge on Volponi in the Whitney Handicap (G1). Favored at 3-to-5 in the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1), however, Medaglia d'Oro had no answer when the undefeated Candy Ride (Arg) challenged at the top of the stretch and left him 3 1/4 lengths behind.

Favored again in the Classic, Medaglia d'Oro battled for the first mile with Congaree, but just as he put that rival away inside the eighth pole, Pleasantly Perfect swept past to win by 1 1/2 lengths with Medaglia d'Oro holding on to second.

Medaglia d'Oro showed he had retained all of his considerable ability in his first start at five and easily won the Donn Handicap (G1). Both Medaglia d'Oro and Pleasantly Perfect made the long trip to the Persian Gulf for the Dubai World Cup (G1), and they reproduced their Breeders' Cup form almost to the pound. Once again, Pleasantly Perfect was able to run down Medaglia d'Oro in the final furlong to win by three quarters of a length with the rest of the field far behind.

That proved to be Medaglia d'Oro's last start, as ankle problems made it impossible to give him a third chance at the Breeders' Cup Classic. Though never quite a champion, he retired with the admirably consistent record of finishing first or second in 15 of his 17 starts, eight of them wins, for earnings of $5,754,720. All but his first two starts were in Grade 1 or Grade 2 races.

A strikingly handsome colt flawed only by very slightly flat knees, Medaglia d'Oro was obviously an attractive commodity as a stud prospect and Richard and Audrey Haisfield acquired him privately. He stood his first season at John G. Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm in 2005 at a fee of $35,000, while the Haisfields prepared their Stonewall Farm a few miles away and moved to Stonewall in 2006.

Pedigree doubts

Medaglia d'Oro possessed every attribute commercial breeders want except a highly fashionable pedigree, but his genealogy was attractive enough, combined with his outstanding race record, and conformation, to merit a decent opportunity.

Medaglia d'Oro's achievements had helped make his sire, El Prado, leading sire by North American earnings in 2002. A son of great Irish sire Sadler's Wells, El Prado had been forced to make his own way as a sire, however, and had not had any opportunity to establish himself as a sire of sires. Out of the Irish classic winning mare Lady Capulet, by Sir Ivor, El Prado won four of his six starts at two in 1991, including the National Stakes (Ire-G1), Juddmonte EBF Beresford Stakes (Ire-G2), and John J. Long Memorial Railway Stakes (Ire-G3), earning Irish champion two-year-old honors.

El Prado lost his way at three, however, finishing unplaced in all three starts, which meant he retired to Airdrie Stud in 1993 at a fee of $7,500 with no fanfare and lowered expectations. The son of Sadler's Wells exceeded predictions right from the start, with graded winners Chindi (out of Rousing, by Alydar) and El Cielo (Only Above, by Great Above), plus six other stakes winners in his first crop.

El Prado also defied expectations by being equally proficient at siring graded winners on both dirt and turf, but Medaglia d'Oro, from his sixth crop, was his first Grade 1 winner. Given the better mares his success earned, El Prado subsequently sired champion Kitten's Joy (Kitten's First, by Lear Fan), NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) winner Artie Schiller (Hidden Light, by Majestic Light), and Grade 1 winners Spanish Moon (Shining Bright [GB], by Rainbow Quest), Borrego (Sweet as Honey, by Strike the Gold), Paddy O'Prado (Fun House, by Prized), and Asi Siempre (Siempre Asi, by Silver Hawk).

El Prado's career record to date of 78 stakes winners from 926 foals age three and up (8.4%) bears close inspection compared to many more commercially fashionable stallions, and it should be no surprise that his best son is an exceptional sire.

That such a good racehorse and sire should emerge from Medaglia d'Oro's female family is slightly more surprising. His dam, Cappucino Bay, by Bailjumper, was a capable runner in Northern California, winning the 1991 Mercer Girls Stakes and earning $164,433. Medaglia d'Oro was her fourth foal and she had already produced stakes-placed Expresso Bay, by Metfield, but she has had a very spotty produce record since Medaglia d'Oro's arrival.

Cappucino Bay is half sister to multiple stakes winner Maharesred, by Maheras, and to the dam of another stakes winner by Maheras, by Over Two Flags.

Second dam Dubbed In, by Silent Screen, won six races and is full or half sister to the dams of Grade 1 winner Travelling Music, by Spring Double, and Grade 3 winner Farmonthefreeway, by Talc.

Although Medaglia d'Oro is the best horse by a considerable margin in the first five generations of his pedigree, his sixth dam is Foundation Mare Sunday Evening, by Eight Thirty, tail-female ancestress of Dark Mirage, Silent Screen, Henrythenavigator, Java Gold, Dublin, Indian Skimmer, Musket Man, and many other top runners.

Medaglia d'Oro is also the best runner produced to date by a daughter of Bailjumper, whose 25 stakes winners also includes Brazilian champion American Gipsy, by Septieme Ciel.

Sensational

Medaglia d'Oro's first crop of 145 foals showed great promise at two in 2008 with Rachel Alexandra (Lotta Kim, by Roar) winning the Golden Rod Stakes (G2), C. S. Silk (Remember the Day, by Settlement Day) the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (G3), Retraceable (Embraceable, by Dehere) the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, and Renda (Ten Carats, by Capote) the Brave Raj Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra announced that a new star had arrived on the scene with her 20 1/4-length victory in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks (G1). Her undefeated three-year-old season included victories over males in the Preakness (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1), and Woodward (G1) Stakes, earning Horse of the Year honors.

Fifteen stakes winners have emerged thus far from that first crop, including Grade 1 winners Warrior's Reward (For All You Do, by Seeking the Gold), Gabby's Golden Gal (Gabriella Giof [GB], by Ashkalani). His second crop of 95 named foals, while not quite so impressive as the first, already includes Grade 1 or Group 1 winners Champagne d'Oro (Champagne Glow, by Saratoga Six) and Passion for Gold (C'Est L' Amour, by Thunder Gulch).

The quality of Medaglia d'Oro's 20 stakes winners to date from 253 named foals age three and up (7.9%) make it highly probable that his stakes winners to foals ratio is likely to improve once his foals out of better mares hit the racetrack. He is a versatile sire both in terms of surface and the pedigrees of his best runners. Although seven of his 20 stakes winners are out of mares by Mr. Prospector line stallions, that is a natural result of the gene pool available to him, and he has also sired stakes winners from mares by sires from the Alydar (2), Blushing Groom (Fr) (2), Buckpasser, Hail to Reason (3), Northern Dancer (2), and Seattle Slew (3) male lines.

Once Rachel Alexandra hit the headlines, it was perhaps inevitable that Medaglia d'Oro would leave Stonewall Farm, especially given the financial troubles that farm faced. He now stands to a full book for $100,000 at Darley.

Whether he sires another Horse of the Year or not, Medaglia d'Oro, whose name is familiar to gourmet coffee lovers and translates from the Italian as Gold Medal, is now the golden boy of the commercial breeding industry.

CUTLINE:

Medaglia d'Oro, sire of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and 19 other stakes winners, stands for $100,000 at Darley in Lexington.

About the Author

John P. Sparkman
John P. Sparkman has been Bloodstock Editor for Thoroughbred Times, the national newsweekly for the Thoroughbred industry, since 1994.Before becoming the pedigree and Thoroughbred history guru for the Times, however, he enjoyed a 15-year career as general manager of William du Pont III's Pillar Stud. At Pillar, Sparkman was responsible for breeding 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin.