Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: $1,000 Derby Dreams Ignite For Breeder Gail Rice - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: $1,000 Derby Dreams Ignite For Breeder Gail Rice

Gail Rice, breeder of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit

She's been the wife of racehorse trainer Wayne Rice, the mother of one of the country's top apprentice jockeys in Taylor Rice, and the mother-in-law of Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz. This year, however, Gail Rice is finding herself in the limelight, earning well-deserved recognition for her role as the breeder of a Kentucky Derby contender.

“It's kind of fun, now people are coming up to Taylor and saying, 'Oh your mom, she bred a nice horse,'” Rice said, laughing. “I just can't ask for a dream to come true any better than this.”

Rice, who turns 60 this year, bred Santa Anita Derby runner-up Medina Spirit. The 3-year-old son of $5,000 stallion Protonico is out of the winning Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa, trained by her former husband. While it isn't until the fourth dam that a stakes winner can be found on Medina Spirit's page, Rice — and small-time breeders everywhere — know that black type is just not the most important factor when it comes to how a horse will perform on the track. 

“The mare was just beautiful, even though she had no pedigree,” Rice said. “She bowed a tendon, but she was a really good racehorse. That's something that you know from the inside, but you can't see it on paper. When you have the animal in your hands, though, you can see it.

“I kept telling people, 'This horse can run!' Just his body and his leg, and the intelligent attitude he had, I always thought he was special.”

Medina Spirit is the first foal out of Mongolian Changa, and his entry into the world on April 5, 2018 wasn't nearly as smooth as Rice would have preferred. 

“She was overdue and didn't build her bag of milk at all,” said Rice. “I was watching her thinking, 'She's gonna show signs, get her milk, and be all good.' Then one afternoon I drove in the driveway and she was down in the field, and I saw feet sticking out!

“All I was thinking was, 'But she doesn't have any milk!'”

Luckily, Rice had prepared ahead of time. Her only other broodmare at the time, Scribbling Sarah, was a great milker with strong colostrum, so she'd frozen some of that when she'd had her foal a month before.

The new-to-the-world Medina Spirit got his first dose of colostrum courtesy the milk of Scribbling Sarah, and Mongolian Changa started to produce her own milk about four to five hours after delivering the colt.

Mongolian Changa lost her 2019 foal, and Rice ended up giving the mare away when she made the decision to get divorced later that year. Her colt, the future Medina Spirit, was sent to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company Winter Mixed Sale, bringing just one bid for the bottom-dollar price of $1,000. The colt would later bring $35,000 at the OBS July sale in 2020 before heading to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Rice let him go; she really had no choice. She could only keep one horse at the time due to the divorce, and she'd decided on Scribbling Sarah since the mare's filly by Mr. Speaker brought $65,000 at the 2018 OBS Winter sale.

That filly, named Speech, would go on to win the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in July of 2020, then ran third in the Kentucky Oaks held in September. Rice sold Scribbling Sarah right after the Ashland victory, but still has her 2-year-old colt by Unified and is pointing him to the OBS June sale this year.

Speech winning the Ashland Stakes under Javier Castellano

“His nickname is '9 and 4,' so I hope it comes true,” Rice said. “You gotta call it, you gotta speak it; you gotta speak it to have it. It's funny because his sister is Speed, (Niall) Brennan has the Upstart, named Uphold the Law (in training with Michael Stidham, won debut on March 18), and I named this one 'Disruptive.' He's a really fun horse and does little things that make you laugh, like dumping the water tank, curls his lip up when you touch him. He's just incredibly smart, really sweet, and nothing bothers him.”

Thinking back to the fact that Medina Spirit benefitted from the colostrum of a Grade 1 producer, before going on to become a Grade 3 winner himself, Rice is still a bit shell-shocked. 

“It's just crazy to think about,” she said. “I haven't had many broodmares in my whole career, only ever one or two at a time, just playing around. And to have this happen in back-to-back years? It's crazy.”

The daughter of a schoolteacher and a carpenter, Rice was born in Pennsylvania and actually went to school with her future husband. The pair met back up when she was 21 and she started learning about racehorses at Penn National, and has been hooked ever since.

The pedigree side of the business is especially fascinating, Rice said, though she enjoys being hands-on with the young horses as well.

“I love doing the matching,” said Rice. “I might need to make that my new business, but I also like to be outside! It just gets me excited to see the crosses, A.P. Indy here, Storm Cat, Unbridled… it's like craziness and it's nuts and then I don't sleep!”

Sleep will also be hard to come by next Friday night, before the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit steps into the 20-horse starting gate for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

“Maybe this is when the bridesmaid becomes the bride,” Rice joked, referring to Medina Spirit's trio of second-place finishes in graded stakes company. “If anybody can get him there, though, Baffert can.”

Medina Spirit (inside) fought off Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie the length of the stretch to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes
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