In the 20 years that Joel and Karen Mena have run Can-A-Mex Farms, located 25 km west of Merritt by Spius Creek, there have been countless highlights and memorable occasions for the couple to look back on.

After all, when your business is breeding and raising horses for the racing industry, it sort of comes with the territory.

For the Menas, however, nothing can quite top what happened earlier this year, on February 25 in Phoenix, Arizona. That’s when ‘one of their own’ – Taylors Deal – became the first B.C.-bred race horse in history to win an official Kentucky Derby prep race.

With jockey Mario Gutierrez in the saddle, the three-year-old gelding came from fifth place on the back stretch to power home and win the $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby by 2¼ lengths. Taylors Deal covered the 11/16-mile distance in 1:43.82 on a fast track.

“It was very, very special,” said Karen Mena in a phone interview recently. “You could call it icing on the cake, a reward for many, many years of hard work.”

Taylors Deal’s success in the Turf Paradise Derby was the latest accomplishment in a very promising, early racing career for the young horse from the Nicola Valley. All told, he has competed five times since October, 2011 and picked up three wins, a second and a fourth.

Immediately prior to the Derby, Taylors Deal was a winner of the 6½-furlong Lost in the Fog Juvenile Stakes at Turf Paradise on December 26. The gelding’s total earnings to date are $79,828.

The offspring of Second in Command (sire) and Fleet Amyanne (dam), Taylors Deal was born in May of 2009. The official breeders are listed as Can-A-Mex Farms and Clive and Linda Lytle of Vancouver who together own the mare Fleet Amyanne.

You could say the gelding comes by his talent honestly, as his lineage includes the great Canadian and American racehorse legends Northern Dancer and Secretariat.

Taylors Deal spent the first year of his existence at Can-A-Mex Farms before being taken to the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s September sale at the Thunderbird Show Park in Langley. There, he was purchased by Glen Todd and the North American Thoroughbred Horse Company, one of the largest thoroughbred race horse ownership groups in the Pacific Northwest.

As a yearling, Taylors Deal went to farms in Aldergrove and in Washington State to be ‘broke’ and started under saddle, prior to making his racing debut as a two-year-old in October of last year at Hastings Park race track in Vancouver. His first competitive start was an auspicious one as he won the six-furlong event.

At the conclusion of the 2011 racing season at Hastings Park, Taylors Deal was shipped to California. He came second in a race at the storied Santa Anita track in Arcadia before moving on to Phoenix for his next three starts. His fourth-place finish in November came in his one-and-only experience on turf (grass) to date.

“They thought they’d try him on turf,” explained Mena. “Some horses are superior on grass. You never know until you put them on it.” She went on to add, “He [Taylors Deal] ran very green that day, meaning that he didn’t have it all together. He was kind of all over the place, not paying attention and what not. It happens sometimes when they’re still youngsters.”

Mena said that the Derby win in February was definitely the young horse’s most significant accomplishment to date.

“He did what he was asked to do [by jockey Gutierrez] convincingly. He beat some nice horses down there. He seems to be getting better with each start. By that I mean he seems to be maturing – handling the distance, and handling what is asked of him by the rider with more and more confidence.”

Taylors Deal is back at Hastings Park right now, preparing for the upcoming racing season which starts Saturday, April 14. Other than that, Mena is not privy to too many more details regarding the gelding’s racing future. That is exclusively the domain of his present owners.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on how many times he will race in the coming months, or even if he will stay at Hastings the entire season. As his breeders, all we can do is be his biggest cheerleaders up here.”

Mena did add, however, “There’s always the hope that he would be a contender for the Canadian Derby in August, or the B.C. Derby in September – both very prestigious races to win.” A couple of years ago, a horse that boarded at Can-A-Mex, named Tommy Danzinger, won the Canadian Derby.

In the meantime, the Menas will continue to go about their business, grateful that they had an important role to play in the development of another outstanding horse racing prospect, from B.C no less.

“We just want to acknowledge and recognize our co-breeders, Clive and Linda Lytle, as well as the owners of Taylors Deal, NATHC, for their tremendous support of the horse racing industry here in B.C.,” said Karen. “We’ve been lucky that they’ve come by and shopped in our store,” she added with a laugh.

Note: Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who rode Taylors Deal in three of his five races to date and was a winner twice, has all but secured a place in this year’s Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 5) on board I’ll Have Another. Gutierrez guided the three-year-old gelding to a first place finish at the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.