03/27/2015 1:10PM

Sparkman: Medaglia d'Oro strikes gold Down Under

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The list of shuttle stallions that have truly been equally successful in both hemispheres is astonishingly short. In fact, it may really be a club of one.

It was the late, great Danehill who legitimized the shuttle concept in the 1990s by becoming an eight-time leading sire in Australia, but he also led the sire list in England twice and three times in France. Danehill has established multiple branches of his sire line in both hemispheres.

Most other shuttle stallions have tended to be better in one hemisphere or the other. For example, More Than Ready has been a good sire in the U.S. but is a tremendous success in Australia, while Galileo, a great sire in Europe, is far less effective Down Under.

Darley’s Medaglia d’Oro made his first trip to Australia in 2010, and sired only a couple of stakes winners to date from his first crop of Australian 3-year-olds, but he has a potentially great one in his second in Vancouver, who captured the world’s richest juvenile race, the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes, on March 21.

Medaglia d’Oro, of course, did not wait to sire a great one in America. His first-crop daughter, Rachel Alexandra (out of Lotta Kim, by Roar), earned Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly honors in 2009 with an unbeaten campaign that included victories over males in the classic Preakness and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. Rachel Alexandra is one of 12 Northern Hemisphere Grade/Group 1 winners sired by Medaglia d’Oro, so he has a long way to go to even out those numbers, but the unbeaten Vancouver is almost certain to be named champion 2-year-old male in Australia this year, which would match Medaglia d’Oro’s number of champions in America.

Bred in Kentucky by Albert and Joyce Bell, Medaglia d’Oro was the best dirt runner sired by El Prado, by Sadler’s Wells, and the principal architect of El Prado’s North American sire championship in 2002. Champion 2-year-old in Ireland in 1991, El Prado made his reputation mostly as a sire of turf and synthetic surface horses, headed by 2004 champion turf male and 2013 leading sire Kitten’s Joy and 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller.

Medaglia d’Oro was something different right from the start. He raced only once at 2, finishing second in a December 2001 maiden race at Turfway Park long before the synthetic era at that northern Kentucky track. He showed excellent speed in his second start about two months later, chasing fractions of 21.82 and 46.03 seconds on the way to a 4 1/4-length maiden victory at Oaklawn Park in 1:10.97 for trainer David Vance in the colors of Joyce Bell.

That victory attracted the attention of several bloodstock agents, and the Bells sold Medaglia d’Oro privately to Edmund Gann, who promptly transferred the colt to his longtime trainer, Bobby Frankel. The Hall of Fame conditioner wasted no time in testing Medaglia d’Oro in good company, and he duly won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, leading all the way to beat U S S Tinosa by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:41.95. With the Kentucky Derby as a goal, Frankel shipped Medaglia d’Oro to New York for the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 13, 2002, but he lost by a head after a 1 1/8-mile duel on the lead with Buddha.

Medaglia d’Oro went off a lukewarm co-second choice at 6-1 in the Derby, and ran a respectable fourth for such an inexperienced colt, eight lengths behind the front-running winner, War Emblem. Second choice again in the Preakness, he ran poorly for the only time in his career, finishing 17 1/4 lengths behind War Emblem.

Medaglia d’Oro’s best efforts had seen him on or near the lead, and jockey Kent Desormeaux reverted to that style in the Belmont Stakes. Medaglia d’Oro followed the pace of Wiseman’s Ferry for the first half-mile before taking a lead he held deep into the stretch before longshot Sarava inched by to win by a half-length.

Medaglia d’Oro returned after a brief rest to post impressive victories in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers, and could have earned champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year honors with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He ran a far better race than any of the other contenders for the 3-year-old championship, following the pace of E Dubai and War Emblem before taking over at the head of the stretch, but the unconsidered Volponi ran by him at the eighth pole and beat him by 6 1/2 lengths.

That, in the proverbial nutshell, became the story of the racing career of Medaglia d’Oro. In seven more starts in Grade/Group 1 or Grade 2 stakes over the following two racing seasons, Medaglia d’Oro was never out of the first two, winning the Grade 2 Strub Stakes and Oaklawn Handicap and the Grade 1 Whitney and Donn. On the three occasions where Medaglia d’Oro had a chance to win a championship event, however, he finished second – to Candy Ride in the Pacific Classic, and to Pleasantly Perfect in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup, which proved to be his final start.

In 17 starts over four seasons, Medaglia d’Oro won eight times and finished second on seven occasions, his only unplaced efforts coming in the Derby and Preakness. His obvious class and admirable consistency earned him a place at stud at John G. Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Lexington, Ky., in 2005, and his handsome physique was bound to attract commercial breeders. Medaglia d’Oro stands about 16.2 hands, with a magnificent shoulder, and though he is rather flat through his knees he has plenty of bone to support his big frame.

His pedigree was rather more problematic for commercial breeders. Despite his leading sire laurels, El Prado was hardly anyone’s idea of a desirable sire of sires in 2005. Medaglia d’Oro’s dam, Cappucino Bay, had won a small stakes at Longacres and placed in another at Golden Gate but had eventually descended into high-priced claimers. His broodmare sire, Bailjumper, by Damascus, did not have a good reputation with Kentucky breeders, and while Cappucino Bay was a half-sister to another Longacres stakes winner in Maharesred, by Maheras, it was quite a ways back along Medaglia d’Oro’s female line before one encountered the many really good horses descending from his sixth dam, foundation mare Sunday Evening, by Eight Thirty. The pedigree has since improved further with the victory of Medaglia d’Oro’s half-sister Naples Bay, by Giant’s Causeway, in two Grade 3 stakes.

Headed by the brilliant and beloved Rachel Alexandra, Medaglia d’Oro’s first crop of 146 named foals included 17 stakes winners, including Grade 1 winners C. S. Silk, Warrior’s Reward, and Gabby’s Golden Gal. His subsequent Northern Hemisphere crops have confirmed his place among elite American sires through the exploits of Grade/Group 1 winners Passion for Gold, Marketing Mix, Plum Pretty, Mshawish, Coffee Clique, Violence, Champagne d’Oro, and Lochte.

None of those have shown the kind of speed demonstrated by Vancouver in the Golden Slipper, but then, none of them were out of fast, precocious daughters of Danehill. Vancouver’s dam, Skates, by Danehill, placed in stakes at 2 and 3 and has already produced Group 1 winner Juste Momente, by Giant’s Causeway, and stakes winner Captain Coltish, by Fusaichi Pegasus. Skates is a half-sister to three more fast horses in Group 3 winner Murtajill, by Rock of Gibraltar, Bradbury’s Luck, by Redoute’s Choice (a good sire in Western Australia), and Sunset Run, by End Sweep. Their dam, Skating, by At Talaq, from a female line that has been in Australia for a century, was also a very fast Group 1 winner, capturing top-level wins over distances of about seven furlongs and a mile.

It will be interesting to see how far Vancouver stays as a 3-year-old. Almost all of Medaglia d’Oro’s best offspring have been best at distances of a mile or more, with only Warrior’s Reward’s Grade 1 Carter Handicap victory at less than a mile on his résumé. In his extraordinarily prolific and versatile career at stud, Danehill sired Group 1 or Grade 1 winners at every distance from five to 20 furlongs, but Vancouver’s immediate female family seems inclined toward the shorter end of the distance spectrum.

The larger question is whether Vancouver heralds the emergence of Medaglia d’Oro as a major force in the shuttle market. One unbeaten 2-year-old does not a champion sire make, but Vancouver appears to be so good that it will be surprising if there is not more Group 1 gold to follow from Medaglia d’Oro Down Under.