When he started his racing stable in 2016, Amr F. Zedan set an ambitious goal of winning the Kentucky Derby not once but at least twice. He’s halfway there.
Zedan Racing Stable’s Medina Spirit won the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, giving trainer Bob Baffert a record-setting seventh Derby victory and jockey John Velazquez his fourth.
But it was the first for the 46-year-old Zedan, a Saudi Arabian businessman and philanthropist.
“This is really surreal,” Zedan said Saturday. “I really just can’t believe it.”
Born in Los Angeles when his parents were studying at the University of Southern California, Zedan lived in the United States until age 5 before the family moved back to Saudi Arabia. It was there that he became a serious polo player who led Zedan Polo to the championship of the Dubai Cup in 2016.
That was the same year he founded Zedan Racing Stables, headquartered in Lexington. “Before polo, I had been completely oblivious to horse racing,” he told Thoroughbred Daily News in 2017.
Before Saturday, the stable’s star was Princess Noor, who won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes and the Grade 2 Chandler Stakes before finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year November at Keeneland.
According to Equibase, Zedan has won 11 of 61 starts with total earnings of $1,054,453. Medina Spirit is his first Kentucky Derby starter and Saturday’s win was the stable’s first victory in 2021.
Zedan is not shy about paying big money for a horse he wants. He paid $1.7 million for a colt by Gun Runner at the Fasig-Tipton select 2-year-olds in training sale in March.
Medina Spirit was far from a $1 million yearling. The son of Protonico out of the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa, Medina Spirit was bred in Florida by Gail Rice. Her former husband, trainer Wayne Rice, had purchased the mare for $9,000.
The Paulick Report reported that Mongolian Changa had problems carrying Medina Spirit. Rice’s heroic efforts were able to save the foal, who drew only a $1,000 bid from Christy Whitman, proprietor of Whitman Sales at the Ocala Breeders’ 2019 Winter Mix sale. When Whitman entered the colt in the Ocala Breeders’ 2-year-old Sale last July, Zedan took an interest and, with Baffert’s stamp of approval, paid a mere $35,000 for the purchase.
“We were done shopping per se at the auction,” said Zedan, who got a call from friend Oussama Aboughazale asking him to look at a colt by his sire Protonico. “So I checked him out and I liked him.”
Zedan then sent the colt to Baffert. “I have him down at my Los Alamitos,” said the trainer. “And my assistant down there says, ‘You know that horse they didn’t give much for? I think he’s okay.’”
After winning the Robert B. Lewis on Jan. 30, Medina Spirit had finished second in his previous two races, including the April 3 Santa Anita Derby, but led wire-to-wire on Saturday.
“I was just hoping for a clean break,” Zedan said. “I knew he had a heart that’s bigger than his body. And all we needed is for him to be up front and just keep fighting because no one was going to pass Medina if Medina really got the lead.
“On the way into the stretch, I just couldn’t see anything. It just went gray, and all of a sudden everybody is jumping on top of me. I don’t know. It was emotional. It was surreal. It was just amazing.”