Archdeacon: A pair of Derby Day miracles

TAIBA 1 – Taiba, the lightly-raced chestnut colt trying to make history at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, runs as a yearling on the Warren County horse farm of Bruce and Mary Ryan. They owned Taiba’s mother, the dam Needmore Flattrery, who twice was named Ohio’s Horse of the Year.  They bred her to Gun Runner, the 2017 American Horse of the Year who retired with nearly $16 million in earnings. Taiba was foaled April 3, 2019 in Kentucky, then returned with Needmore Flattery to Ohio, where lived a year until he was sold in Fasig-Tipton Sale Kentucky sale and then later resold for $1.7 million to Amr Zedan. Taiba is trying to become the first Derby winner since Leonatus in 1883  to have just two previous career starts John Engelhardt/CONTRIBUTED

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TAIBA 1 – Taiba, the lightly-raced chestnut colt trying to make history at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, runs as a yearling on the Warren County horse farm of Bruce and Mary Ryan. They owned Taiba’s mother, the dam Needmore Flattrery, who twice was named Ohio’s Horse of the Year. They bred her to Gun Runner, the 2017 American Horse of the Year who retired with nearly $16 million in earnings. Taiba was foaled April 3, 2019 in Kentucky, then returned with Needmore Flattery to Ohio, where lived a year until he was sold in Fasig-Tipton Sale Kentucky sale and then later resold for $1.7 million to Amr Zedan. Taiba is trying to become the first Derby winner since Leonatus in 1883 to have just two previous career starts John Engelhardt/CONTRIBUTED

Because a Warren County horseman cheated death, long shot Taiba has a chance to beat the odds today and make history.

MORROW – Taiba’s chance at making history today – when he attempts to become the first horse in 139 years to win the Kentucky Derby in just his third career start -- nearly died in the bloody grass and the desperate screams outside of a barn on a picturesque farm east of Morrow in Warren County eight years ago.

“I came out and saw the two (yearlings) running loose in and out of the barn,” Mary Ryan said. “I threw my hands up and said, ‘What you got going on out here, Bruce?”

She got no answer.

And that’s when she saw her now-husband, Bruce Ryan, a rock of a man, lying motionless on the ground.

“He was lying there on his back with his hands crossed,” Mary said. “It was like he was sleeping.”

He was snoring loudly and then the sound became raspy and she said she later was told “that was the death rattle,” one of the last stages of a person’s life.

Bruce’s right temple was caved in and blood was coming out of the back of his head, too. He did not respond to her pleas.

As she’d learn later, Bruce was taking one of the yearlings out when it became agitated and reared up. As he turned, one of the yearling’s hooves came crashing down on his skull.

He was knocked down with such force, he suffered a severe hematoma on the other side of his head.

Sitting in the high-ceilinged living room of their home the other day – with Bruce seated across from her and adding a few facts to an incident he mostly cannot recall – Mary found the memories were soon accompanied by her tears.

She told of finding her husband’s phone in his truck and frantically dialing 9-1-1.

“I got some dirty horse wraps out of the barn and tried to compress them on his (wound,) but every time he took a breath, blood spurted out the back of his head,” she said. “I was screaming as loud as I could. I just wanted him to open his eyes.

“I heard gurgling and thought he was choking on the blood, so I tried to roll him up against my knees.”

That’s when the first rescue unit arrived at their 130-acre farm off State Route 132, but the medics didn’t initially see her and she screamed some more.

Eventually, the UC Health Air Care helicopter landed and Bruce, stillunresponsive, was loaded on board.

“At first they weren’t taking off and I was frantic,” Mary said. “That’s when I found out they first had to give his heart a jump to keep him alive. And I learned later they had to shock him again later.”

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TAIBA 5 – Bruce and Mary Ryan at their picturesque 130-acre horse farm east of Morrow in Warren County. Eight years ago Bruce survived a severe head injury from a horse that reared up and slammed a hoof down on his right temple. He was not expected to survive, but defied all odds and thanks to Mary’s life-saving actions when she initially found him, superb medical care and a long and rigorous rehab, he made a miraculous recovery. “He’s always been Mr. Beat the Odds,” Mary said. After the accident he bred their champion mare, Needmore Flattery, to 2017 Horse of the Year, Gun Runner, a union that produced Taiba – a miracle story himself – who will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

TAIBA 5  – Bruce and Mary Ryan at their picturesque 130-acre horse farm east of Morrow in Warren County. Eight years ago Bruce survived a severe head injury from a horse that reared up and slammed a hoof down on his right temple. He was not expected to survive, but defied all odds and thanks to Mary’s life-saving actions when she initially found him, superb medical care and a long and rigorous rehab, he made a miraculous recovery.  “He’s always been Mr. Beat the Odds,” Mary said. After the accident he bred their champion mare, Needmore Flattery, to 2017 Horse of the Year, Gun Runner, a union that produced Taiba – a miracle story himself – who will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.  Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

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TAIBA 5 – Bruce and Mary Ryan at their picturesque 130-acre horse farm east of Morrow in Warren County. Eight years ago Bruce survived a severe head injury from a horse that reared up and slammed a hoof down on his right temple. He was not expected to survive, but defied all odds and thanks to Mary’s life-saving actions when she initially found him, superb medical care and a long and rigorous rehab, he made a miraculous recovery. “He’s always been Mr. Beat the Odds,” Mary said. After the accident he bred their champion mare, Needmore Flattery, to 2017 Horse of the Year, Gun Runner, a union that produced Taiba – a miracle story himself – who will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

Bruce Ryan wasn’t expected to live, but, as Mary said quietly, “God was looking down on him that day.”

They both say they were “blessed” that Bruce ended up in the hands of one of the area’s top neurosurgeons, Dr. Norberto Andaluz, who, Mary said, was conducting a three-year study on new cognitive treatments for brain injuries.

Mary said Bruce’s skull cap was removed to deal with the hematoma. It would take three surgeries to cobble together the crushed portion of his skull with a titanium plate and strips, as well as mesh and fat tissue taken from his thigh.

“Most people die from an injury that severe,” Mary said. “Something like 10 percent live, but they can have real cognitive problems, infections and other issues.

“But Bruce always has been Mr. Beat the Odds.”

He came home from the hospital after a month – some 30 pounds lighter than when he went in and wrestling with his mental reset – and he needed 24/7 care.

Mary, who’d been dating Bruce a few years– they’ve now been married 2 ½ years – quit her insurance job to care for him. It wasn’t an easy task dealing with Bruce’s health needs and moods – “I’ll admit I soured on things for a year or so,” he said – but he got better and better.

“It took me a year, maybe a year and a half to get it all back together,” he said. “They say I’m in the top 10 percent of that 10 percent who survive.”

While he gained a faint scar that now creeps from his silver hairline down his temple, he never lost his acute horse sense.

And that brings us back to Taiba.

The chestnut colt is proof.

From Gunny to Taiba

Bruce grew up in Mount Washington on Cincinnati’s east side.

Every morning before classes at McNicholas High School – where he played three sports – he said he’d run to River Downs to muck stalls and tend to horses.

After a back injury cut short a walk-on role with the Notre Dame football, team, he transferred to the University of Cincinnati and in the late 1980s and started the successful commercial glass company, Ryan All Glass.

Soon after, he bought the 1860s farm in need of real repair. He did much of the work himself and launched his horse business, first with quarter horses, and then thoroughbreds. He partnered with trainer Tim Hamm of Blazing Meadows Farm in northeast Ohio and they had a string of winning horses.

In 2014, Ryan was named Ohio’s Breeder of the Year.

He and Hamm eventually went their separate ways, but Bruce kept Needmore Flattery, who twice won Ohio Horse of the Year honors.

A master of bloodline pairing, his best breeding effort came when he sent Needmore Flattery to Kentucky to mate with Gun Runner, the 2017 American Horse of the Year who had retired with nearly $16 million in earnings and was early in his stud career.

Their son arrived April 13, 2019, at Millennium Farm outside of Lexington.

Soon mother and son returned to the Ryan’s farm.

They named the new arrival Need More Guns, not only a play off of his parents’ names, but a reflection on his size and seeming need to add some “guns,” as athletes refer to their sculpted biceps.

They nicknamed him Gunny and though they kept him separated from the other bigger yearlings, he did have an arthritic pasture mate and later was put in with the fillies.

He was especially engaging, whether it was horses in adjacent fields, the Ryans themselves or even their family dog, a Great Dane named Roscoe, he’d race along the fence line.

Thy eventually sold him in October 2020 at the Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky to Hartley DeRenzo Thoroughbreds for $140,000. The new owners pin-hooked him – the practice of buying a young horse, training it and reselling it – at the Fasig-Tipton two-year-olds’ sale at Gulfstream in Florida.

That’s where bloodstock agent Gary Young – seeing the great confirmation and sensing the gutsy attitude and raw ability – bought him for Saudi Arabian businessman and horse enthusiast Amr Zedan for $1.7 million.

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Kentucky Derby entrant Taiba works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 7. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Kentucky Derby entrant Taiba works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 7. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

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Kentucky Derby entrant Taiba works out at Churchill Downs Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 7. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Zedan changed Gunny’s name to Taiba.

Last year Zedan’s Medina Spirit – trained by Bob Baffert – won the Kentucky Derby, but soon was disqualified when the colt tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid not permitted in a horse’s system on race day.

After a nine-month investigation by Kentucky racing officials, Baffert was suspended for 90 days, an exile that began April 3. He was banned from this year’s Derby and next year’s, and horses he trained weren’t allowed to run at Churchill Downs.

Last year Baffert decided not to race Taiba as a two-year-old and instead develop him more. The colt finally debuted March 5, winning a six-furlong race at Santa Anita.

After the race Zedan moved Taiba to trainer Tim Yakteen, a former Baffert assistant.

Yakteen planned to run Taiba in the Grade III Lexington Stakes on April 16 in preparation for the Preakness later this month. West agreed with the cautious approach, as did the Ryans.

But Zedan insisted Talia skip Lexington and run the more challenging Santa Anita Derby April 3. A win there – as improbable as it seemed – would qualify the horse for the Kentucky Derby.

“I think Zedan wanted payback, a chance at retribution and redemption,” Mary said.

The precocious colt’s victory stunned the horse world.

“It takes a different kind of horse to do what he did,” Smith said afterward. “This is like Kobe Byrant coming out of high school and scoring 50 points in his first NBA game. It’s pretty incredible.”

Chasing history

When Taiba – given 12-1 odds by Churchill Downs odds maker Mike Battaglia – breaks from the No. 12 post today, he will try to become the first horse to win the Derby with just two previous starts since Leonatus did in 1883 against a field of six other horses. He then distinguished himself by eating the presentation of roses given to the winner.

While Taiba comes into the Derby with the fastest speed times in the race, he will have a lot more to chew on than Leonatus.

Instead of racing against just four other horses as he did at Santa Anita, he’ll be in the middle of the Derby’s cavalry stampede, 20-horse field. And then he’ll be surrounded by the cacophony from 150,000 cheering fans.

Simon Bray, a former trainer and current analyst for the racing network TVG, told the Wall Street Journal: “If he pulls that off, I think it’s going to be one of the most magnificent events in the Kentucky Derby.”

The Ryans won’t be at Churchill Downs Saturday. The daughter of one of Bruce’s longtime friends is getting married in a black-tie affair that starts in the late afternoon.

“They said they’ll have a TV set up,” Mary said.

As the Ryans watch, they may get a similar feeling to the one Dr. Andaluz had when they returned to see him18 months after the accident.

As Bruce talked, the doctor just sat there and listened.

“We were like, ‘Dr. Andaluz, you don’t have to stay. We understand you’re busy,’” Mary said. “But he had tears in his eyes and he was like, ‘No, I just want to take this in. I don’t get to see this.’”

Bruce understood: “Most people who have my type of head injury don’t come back to normal. A lot of them die.

“So for him to see someone come back like this has got to be something like Michelangelo felt, lying on the floor, looking up and saying ‘I can’t believe how beautiful this is!’”

And Saturday the Ryans will feel the same about the two beautiful miracles that got Bruce and their beloved Gunny to this race day.

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