A young Kentucky stallion attracting an average book of 36 mares his first three years at stud typically finds a new home in a regional market or overseas. Such has not been the fate of second-crop sire Protonico , whose owner/breeder Oussama Aboughazale has almost single-handedly supported this stallion for one simple reason—Aboughazale believes in him.
Aboughazale's faith in the 10-year-old son of Giant's Causeway was rewarded May 1 in the grandest way possible, by siring Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Medina Spirit in his first crop.
"It is a tough spot in the stallion business for a horse like Protonico to get mares because he didn't get that grade 1 win but had grade 1 ability," said Frances Relihan, bloodstock manager for Aboughazale's Sumaya Farm and Sumaya U.S. Stables. "For so long, we have talked about the realities of the market with this horse, but he has believed in him 110%. I take my hat off to Mr. Aboughazale. He is loyal to the horse, and we are so happy to see (Protonico) break out with a horse like this with limited opportunity."
Protonico, who stands at Castleton Lyons, is a third-generation Sumaya homebred out of one of the farm's most successful families developed from the winning Wild Again mare Wild Princess, who agent Carlos S.E. Moore acquired for a client from Chile at the 1997 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale for $10,000 from Lane's End's consignment. Wild Princess sold for $80,000 at the 1991 Keeneland July Sale, the auction house's former boutique summer select sale by Amanda Skiffington. The filly would eventually be raced by Edward "Ned" Evans but only make two starts at 2 in England, with a win and a second. She was retired to Evans' breeding program and produced three foals that did not have any stakes-level success, so she was offered at Keeneland in foal to Prenup.
Wild Princess was shipped to Chile where Aboughazale bought her. He owns Haras Sumaya, where he first started breeding Thoroughbreds. For the first mating to Wild Princess, he took the mare to three-time leading Chilean sire Hussonet and got multiple Chilean champion Wild Spirit.
Wild Spirit won the Mil Guineas (G1), Gran Criterium (G1), and Alberto Solari Magnasco (G1) and was runner-up in the Chilean St. Leger for Aboughazale on her way to being named 2003 Chilean Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly. At 4, she was sent to the United States where she won the Ruffian Handicap (G1), Delaware Handicap (G2), and Shuvee Handicap (G2) and was second in the Personal Ensign Handicap (G1). For her career, she compiled a 9-4-1 record from 15 starts and earned US$984,690.
Alpha Spirit, the dam of Protonico, is the first foal out of Wild Spirit and by A.P. Indy. She apparently never got to fully prove herself at the track with only two starts and no placings. She is, however, a full sister to Sumaya U.S. Stables homebred stakes winner Diva Spirit and a half sister to stakes-placed winner Wild Zambezi (by Giant's Causeway).
Alpha Spirit quickly made her mark as a broodmare, producing Protonico for her first foal. The colt went on to win four graded stakes for Sumaya U.S. Stables—victories in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) at Parx Racing, Discovery Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack, and Ben Ali Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. He made a valiant run at Hoppertunity in the 2014 Clark Handicap (G1) but was a dwindling half-length back at the wire. Protonico was third again behind Hoppertunity in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1). He retired with a 7-1-2 record from 16 starts and earned $997,587.
"He was unlucky to not get that grade 1 win in the Clark Handicap, but he was a fighter and a very game, tough horse. Mr. Aboughazale always says heart is what is most important to him," Relihan said.
Protonico first retired to stud at Taylor Made Stallions in 2017, where he stood for $6,500. The following year he was relocated to Darby Dan Farm for one breeding season, and then eventually found a home at the Ryan family's Castleton Lyons, where he's stood since 2019.
Also in 2017, Aboughazale bought 235 acres in Bourbon County that was formerly Belvedere Farm and then Crystal Springs Farm. The farm soon reached its capacity for mares, so Relihan contacted a longtime friend, Patrick Hayes, who is the farm manager at Castleton Lyons, which is near Sumaya Farm. Protonico was sent to Castleton Lyons along with a group of mares.
"It is such a beautiful farm; almost an untapped resource," said Relihan about Castleton Lyons, which also stands three-time U.S. champion and Castleton Lyons homebred Gio Ponti . "Patrick and I grew up together in Ireland and I know he does a wonderful job."
Medina Spirit is not the only star to come out of the first crop bred by Aboughazale since he established Sumaya Farm, which is managed by Jody Alexander. He also bred Princess Noor, a daughter of Not This Time , who won the 2020 Del Mar Debutante Stakes (G1) and Chandelier Stakes (G2) for Zedan Racing Stables, which also owns Medina Spirit. Another from the 2018 crop is Zainalarab, a filly by War Front out of the grade 3-winning Tapit mare Delightful Joy, who Shadwell Estate bought for $1 million at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She won her debut at 2 and was runner-up in a $118,000 allowance/optional claimer April 30 at Churchill Downs.
As for Protonico, he now leads the North American second-crop sire standings with more than $2.2 million in earnings and is the only sire of his class with a grade 1 winner this year from 40 named foals of racing age. He has the fewest number of named foals among the top 25 second-crop sires. Protonico bred 34 mares his first year at stud in 2017, then 51 mares in 2018, 23 in 2019, and he bred 16 mares in 2020.
The vast majority of mares being bred to Protonico are owned by Aboughazale, who has had to strike a balance between supporting his stallion and running a viable commercial breeding business.
"He wished he could have given him more mares, but it is a push/pull with breeding for the commercial market," Relihan said. "He supported him with close to 20 mares his first two years but when you are selling commercially you have to breed to more of those types of sires."
Still Protonico's runners—like Medina Spirit—are proving capable of overcoming the challenges of limited books.
"He has gotten a wide variety of mares, and the one common denominator with the foals is that they all walk really, really well. They are good-striding horses. They don't all look the same, but they are smooth, athletic horses," Relihan said, adding that they also possess the same heart that Protonico showed on the track.
"He's got 10 runners so far and they all have heart," Relihan continued. "Medina Spirit at every turn in the road has exceeded expectations. To hear everything Bob Baffert has said about the horse since he got him last year, how competitive he is and once he gets that lead, he will give every sinew in him not to let a horse pass him. He has the heart of a lion."