In 1969, a yearling colt that would be named Canonero II was auctioned off at Keeneland for $1,200.  The equivalent amount in today’s dollars is about $8,650.  Canonero II would go on to win the 1971 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Fast forward 50 years and another future Kentucky Derby winner to be named Medina Spirit was auctioned as a yearling for $1,000 and then again as a 2-year-old for $35,000.  Medina Spirit’s yearling purchase price, adjusted for inflation, was a tremendous bargain even by comparison to the price paid for Canonero II.

Medina Spirit’s rise to fame is similar to Super Bowl winningest quarterback Tom Brady being selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft or NBA all-time great Michael Jordan being so overlooked early on that he did not make the roster of his junior high school basketball team.

Horse racing is full of such rags-to-riches stories, with former claimers like John Henry and Charismatic turning into Grade I winners and relatively low-priced yearlings like Seattle Slew or auction rejects like Sunday Silence becoming Hall of Fame inductees.

Countless people from everyday life, most of whom are not wealthy, buy into racing partnerships for a chance to catch lightning in a bottle.  Occasionally, their dreams come true, as with Justify or Mucho Macho Man. 

Part of the lure and intrigue of horse racing is that a small-time breeder or a bargain-basement buyer has a shot, albeit a longshot, to best a sheikh, or a hedge fund billionaire, or a patrician owner. For instance, in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, was once again disappointed in his quest to win the Derby when his betting favorite Essential Quality finished fourth behind a $1,000 yearling with a modest pedigree.  The sheikh is one of the two (along with Coolmore Stud) leading global breeders of blue-blooded racehorses.

Hope springs eternal in life but nowhere more so than in horse racing or at the tail end of the last round of the NFL draft.

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