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Sunday, 20 January, 2019

A solid gold stallion: how Medaglia D'Oro has generated $500 million

Michele MacDonald meets the world's leading sire of sales yearlings

Medaglia D'Oro: covered a who's who of brilliant racemares and producers this year
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At an age when the careers of most stallions have peaked, waned or even slipped below the horizon, Medaglia D’Oro continues to soar higher.

Not only is he coming off a career-best season, with his racing progeny earning over $18.37 million in 2017, the 19-year-old son of El Prado is poised for the Keeneland September yearling sale as the world’s current leading sire of auction yearlings in 2018.

His eight sons and daughters sold so far this year have commanded a staggering average of $735,487, the highest among all stallions with at least four to step through a ring, not including the Japanese market.

“He means everything to us,” Godolphin sales manager Darren Fox reflects on Medaglia D’Oro, who has rewarded patrons with superior achievements by his offspring across all categories, thereby attaining a reputation as perhaps the most versatile sire alive.

“He’s just that very special stallion in terms of what he can get you, be it a colt or filly, dirt or turf. In addition, he just gets a jaw-dropping commercial physical,” Fox says.

“It’s so rare to have a stallion who can deliver the results he’s attaining on all surfaces and who can also give you that sales-topper physical. That’s really the bulls-eye when it comes to a stallion, and he certainly nails it. He really is a special horse in every way.”

Godolphin raised Medaglia D’Oro’s fee twice prior to the beginning of the 2018 breeding season, first to $200,000 and then to $250,000, which put him equal with War Front and behind only Tapit, who stands at $300,000, in North America. 

Talismanic: the Breeders' Cup Turf hero is one of Medaglia D'Oro's leading performers

The hikes came after Medaglia D’Oro finished 2017 with an American record-equalling seven Grade 1 winners in the year, matching the mark set by the legendary trio of Mr Prospector, Danzig and Storm Cat. His elite runners included a pair of Breeders’ Cup victors, with, fittingly, the mare Bar Of Gold on dirt and the colt Talismanic on turf.

Other changes in recognition of Medaglia D’Oro’s ever rising status have included ending his shuttle duty to Australia, where he became one of relatively few stallions to succeed in both hemispheres, and a reduction of his book to 125 mares.

Thus, as summer edges closer to autumn, Medaglia D’Oro can be found, just after dawn, striding down the fence line of his rolling paddock at Godolphin’s Jonabell Farm in Lexington. Dapples adorning his dark mahogany coat are gilded gold in the early light as he gallops through lush grass; he has seen a mare arriving at the farm for a southern hemisphere time mating and he is ablaze with vitality.

“He’s obviously in rude health – he doesn’t look a day of his age,” Fox says. “He’s not shuttling anymore. When you start hitting the kind of landmark achievements in a stallion’s career that he has, it’s time to basically just do what’s right for the horse.

“The idea this year was to scale his book back in light of his increasing age and just make sure we have Medaglia D’Oro to offer to clients for many years to come.”

Superior books of mares now the norm

Plans call for Medaglia D’Oro to serve a limited number of mares on southern hemisphere time following the regular season, in which he achieved 90 per cent fertility.

The 125 mares he covered in the spring are a veritable who’s who in the distaff ranks, encompassing 17 Grade 1 winners and 90 black-type winners overall, as well as 19 Grade 1 producers.

Names in that book included 2017 American champion older female Forever Unbridled and her dam, broodmare of the year and Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever; D’Wildcat Speed, dam of multiple European Group 1 winner Lady Aurelia; 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia; Dawn Raid, dam of Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator; Ivanavinalot, dam of Medaglia D’Oro’s multiple champion daughter Songbird; and Debonnaire, dam of multiple Australian Group 1 winner Hartnell.

As Fox notes, however, that kind of superior book has become the norm for Medaglia D’Oro.

“He bred some excellent mares this year, but he was already breeding outstanding books of mares over the last several years," he says. "That’s the exciting thing – what he’s got coming down the line is exceptional. It’s not like we have to wait for three or four years for the 2018 mares’ produce to hit the track."

The Keeneland catalogue provides ample evidence. Of the 54 yearlings entered by Medaglia D’Oro, 48 are in Book 1, including hip 120, a half-brother to champion Beholder, top sire Into Mischief and Grade 1 winner Mendelssohn; hip 231, a filly who is the first foal of champion juvenile filly My Miss Aurelia; and hip 541, a half-brother to Grade 1 winners Overanalyze, America’s leading freshman sire in 2017, and Meadow Breeze.

There are also hip 617, a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Lord Nelson; hip 823, a colt out of champion grass mare Dayatthespa; hip 856, a filly out of Grade 1 winner Dreaming Of Julia, and hip 899, a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner and $3 million earner Stopchargingmaria.

Going into the September venue, Godolphin is touting Medaglia D’Oro as the sire of more sale-toppers at select American yearling auctions over the last decade than any other stallion. Nonetheless, buyer enthusiasm for his offspring has never been higher than it is right now.

Medaglia D’Oro led the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale with the top two sellers and three of the top five, all at $1m or more, and he sired the sale-toppers at three of the four most significant American two-year-old in training auctions this year, with a pair of juveniles hammered at $1.2m each and another at $1.1m.

Good looks spared him the unkindest cut

Yet all of these dazzling facts are nothing new in the sense that, apart from an unorthodox early life, Medaglia D’Oro has always stood at the zenith of the sport.

Far from his birthplace in Kentucky, he grew up on the rugged Montana farm of breeders Al and Joyce Bell. The Bells previously had gelded all the colts they bred, but since the dark bay out of their stakes-winning Bailjumper mare Cappucino Bay was so well conformed, they spared him the cut.

After Medaglia D’Oro won a maiden race impressively for them, the Bells sold him as a young three-year-old for a reported $500,000 to Edmund Gann, and the colt went on to triumph in elite races like the Travers Stakes and Whitney and Donn Handicaps while trained by Bobby Frankel.

Retired after banking more than $5.7m and notching a slew of high speed figures in Grade 1 events, Medaglia D’Oro began his stud career in 2005 for a $35,000 fee at John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms.

Medaglia D'Oro in his racing heyday, exercising at Nad Al Sheba

Audrey and Richard Haisfield, who had purchased Medaglia D’Oro after his racing career, moved the stallion the following year to their Stonewall Farm, where his fee increased to $40,000 and later to $60,000.

When his first offspring began running, he was an immediate success. His initial crop included his extraordinary daughter, Rachel Alexandra, who helped spur Sheikh Mohammed into acquiring the Haisfields’ majority interest in Medgalia D’Oro late in the 2009 breeding season. 

The stallion was promptly dispatched to Jonabell after the transaction, which reportedly set his value between $40 and $45m.

While the price paid for Medaglia D’Oro during Rachel Alexandra’s ascendancy to Horse of the Year honours was huge, especially as it came during the aftershocks of the global economic crisis, his performance at stud has more than validated the investment.

His offspring have earned over $113.46m worldwide to the end of August, led by 113 black-type winners, including 21 at the Grade/Group 1 level on three continents. Not counting this year’s two-year-olds, he has sired 6.6 per cent black-type winners from racing age offspring and 9.8 per cent from starters.

Medaglia D’Oro has been represented by high-achieving colts and fillies in virtually every aspect of racing and breeding. For example, his juvenile Grade 1 winner Violence currently ranks as America’s leading second-crop sire while standing at Hill ‘n’ Dale.

His twice champion daughter Songbird ruled the auction scene in 2017 when sold as a broodmare prospect for $9.5m to Mandy Pope.

Such is Medaglia D’Oro’s broad appeal that he now has two Group 1-winning sons doing reverse shuttle duty, with Coolmore standing Australian champion juvenile Vancouver in both his homeland and in Kentucky, and Godolphin giving that same opportunity to Astern.

Stamping his stock

Medaglia D’Oro was bred to be a Classic horse, descending from Northern Dancer on the male side and from Horse of the Year Damascus through his dam. His pedigree, with no inbreeding through the first five generations, makes him ideal for a wide variety of potential mates, and he has been particularly successful with mares from the Mr Prospector, Danzig and A.P. Indy lines.

He is highly prepotent and readily passes along his own striking physical appearance and solid frame, as well as his level disposition, Fox says.

“He is a reliable source of size and scope and plenty of substance," he opines. "His offspring have that two-turn look, and he tends to stamp his stock. You can generally pick out a Medaglia D’Oro yearling in the back walking ring. They are correct, commercial types with presence and great athletic walks.

“He’s very straightforward – a very well behaved and professional horse, easy to work with, and his progeny seem to follow suit."

Medaglia D'Oro with his longtime groom Jose Meza

At this stage of his life, Medaglia D’Oro can be recognized as an individual who has created an industry of his own within the larger thoroughbred world. Counting his progeny’s racing earnings, public sales of his offspring and of mares in foal to him, and conservatively estimated stud fees in both hemispheres, he has generated over $500m.

Considering that stunning figure, it may be surprising, but not unrealistic, to ponder that Medaglia D’Oro’s best days as a sire may still be ahead of him due to the quality of his recent books.

As he strides energetically across his paddock on a recent morning, his longtime groom, Jose Meza, expressed a fond appreciation for this horse he described as remarkable in every way.

“He’s a very smart horse – like a human. If you respect him, he’ll respect you,” Meza says. “I’m lucky to take care of him – he’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Fox sums up: “Medaglia D’Oro really is the linchpin of our US stallion operation. He’s really starting to exact his influence on the breed, which obviously we’ll feel for decades to come.

"It’s exciting to see him reach the stratospheric levels that he has on so many fronts – and very gratifying to have an association with a stallion of his calibre.”

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