Taking Stock: Notes on Medina Spirit and Breeders Hertrich lll and Fielding

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Medina Spirit | Benoit

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As I sat down to write this column Monday, I got a text from a bloodstock agent that said, “Heard Medina Spirit broke down at Santa Anita a little while ago. Gonna be a shit storm.” I checked Twitter right away, but there was nothing yet about Medina Spirit (Protonico). I didn't have to wait long. Some minutes later, the “I heard Medina Spirit…” tweets started trickling out, and then the dam burst. Everyone had something to say, and most of it was derogatory or innuendo about his trainer, Bob Baffert, who's been a lightning rod for controversy, including for a post-race betamethasone positive on Medina Spirit after the colt had surprised many with a gutty win in the Gl Kentucky Derby this spring.

The negative response was expected, because Baffert went through a tough period some years back when a number of his trainees died of apparent “sudden-death” heart attacks, which was the immediate speculation about Medina Spirit. Although Baffert was mostly cleared of wrongdoing and never sanctioned in the prior deaths, they left a black mark that's never been erased. His recent medication violations have only infuriated his detractors and heightened tensions, creating the climate that was a tinderbox for the “shit storm” that hit after the news broke Monday morning.

Ironically, Medina Spirit had been in the news Friday evening, when Baffert's attorney had triumphantly released a statement that said that a lab had determined the betamethasone in the Derby positive had been from an ointment and not an injection.

It's always a gut punch for anyone in this business when a horse dies, especially the connections. I sent condolences via texts to both Baffert and Amr Zedan, the owner, and both responded, Zedan with the praying symbol and Baffert with one word, “Devastated.” When the Derby winner and a high-profile horse like Medina Spirit dies, emotions are understandably amplified, but because it was a Baffert horse, the angst and anger surrounding the death was at another decibel level altogether on social media, where he's positively toxic. Unfortunately, lost in all this were Medina Spirit's accomplishments, some of which were minimized by folks while he was alive because of the betamethasone positive and because he was trained by Baffert. That's too bad, because he was a Classic winner and also a rare type of horse.

Bred by Gail Rice in Florida in a “backyard” breeding program, Medina Spirit exceeded all expectations and was an inspiration to small breeders everywhere. A $1,000 yearling, he was purchased for $30,000 as a 2-year-old in training by Zedan Racing Stable but steadily climbed the ladder in Baffert's elite barn, stepping over high-priced yearlings one at a time to become the third-best 3-year-old for Baffert behind Life Is Good (Into Mischief) and Concert Tour (Street Sense), two Gary and Mary West-bred colts. But when those two failed to make the Churchill Classic, Medina Spirit stepped up to the plate off the bench and delivered the ultimate pinch hit, succeeding at 12-1. His win appeared to surprise even his trainer.

Medina Spirit's road to Louisville had included some tough races, notably two against the stable star, the handsome and brilliantly fast Life Is Good. In the Glll Sham S., Medina Spirit immediately caught the eye for closing the distance when Life Is Good had looked like was going to blow open the race. At the finish, less than a length separated the two horses, but it was Medina Spirit's “try” that caught the eye–he simply wouldn't give up, despite the excuses that were made for his stablemate's lack of focus in the race. That try is the characteristic that most defined Medina Spirit, and it was evident in all 10 of his starts, five of which he won. He placed in the other five races, and it's notable that he never let the popular Godolphin runner and Gl Belmont S. and Travers S. winner Essential Quality (Tapit), the champion 2-year-old colt last year who's touted as the favorite to win the Eclipse as champion 3-year-old colt, finish ahead of him in two meetings.

Medina Spirit wasn't particularly attractive, he wasn't a big horse, and he didn't appear to be a physically athletic standout unlike most in Baffert's barn, but that will to win and the will to never give up that he repeatedly exhibited is the rarest and most sought-after characteristic in racehorses.

Aidan O'Brien once told me that his G1 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) “would absolutely kill himself stone dead for you,” meaning he'd generously empty the tank and run on fumes if he had to.

That's exactly how I'll remember Medina Spirit. He was that type of warrior, and one of the few horses in recent years that I've admired for his try. He left it all on the track.

Americanrevolution

You've already read in TDN about the notable accomplishment of breeders Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables being represented by the juvenile duo of Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo) and Nest (Curlin), two Todd Pletcher trainees who won the Gll Remsen and Gll Demoiselle, respectively, at Aqueduct Saturday. They can dream about the Derby and the Gl Kentucky Oaks over the winter.

Pletcher also won the Gl Cigar Mile Saturday with CHC Inc. and WinStar's ascendant 3-year-old colt Americanrevolution (Constitution), who was bred by in New York by Fred W. Hertrich lll and John D. Fielding, who've been having a dream of a year. Alone or in partnership, Hertrich, at the least, should be considered for an Eclipse Award as breeder of the year, because he's had a hand in breeding six Grade l winners in 2021–quite an accomplishment, especially for a fairly small breeding entity that's based at Watercress Farm in Lexington.

Aside from Americanrevolution, a winner of five of seven starts, the other Grade l winners are Beyond Brilliant (Twirling Candy), Hit The Road (More Than Ready), Juju's Map (Liam's Map), Pinehurst (Twirling Candy), and Maxim Rate (Exchange Rate).

Hertrich and Fielding, along with Robert L. Tribbett, bred Beyond Brilliant, who won the Gl Hollywood Derby for trainer John Shirreffs on Nov. 27.

Hertich alone bred Juju's Map, winner of the Gl Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland on Oct. 8 for trainer Brad Cox.

Hertrich is the sole breeder of Hit the Road, who won the Gl Frank E Kilroe Mile on March 6 at Santa Anita for trainer Dan Blacker.

Hertrich and Fielding bred Pinehurst, who won the Gl Runhappy Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 6 for Baffert.

Hertrich and Fielding bred Maxim Rate, who won the Gl Gamely at Santa Anita on May 31 for Simon Callaghan.

Hertrich and Fielding are commercial breeders who sell with Taylor Made, and these are the prices they got for these six future Grade l winners: Maxim Rate was a $130,000 weanling; Pinehurst sold for $180,000 as a weanling; Juju's Map was a $190,000 short yearling; Beyond Brilliant sold for $50,000 as a fall yearling; Hit the Road was a $200,000 RNA fall yearling; and Americanrevolution was a $275,000 summer yearling.

If I were shopping for young horses, I'd be looking carefully in the Taylor Made consignments for horses bred by Hertrich and Fielding.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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