May 1 (UPI) — Medina Spirit led early and never quit, running on to win The Kentucky Derby on Saturday, giving his trainer, Bob Baffert, a record seventh victory in the Run for the Roses.
The small horse, sold as a yearling for $1,000, was the last hope for Baffert in this year’s Derby as better-regarded stablemates fell by the wayside. In the runup to the race, Baffert was uncharacteristically low key and out of the spotlight.
That all changed in 2 minutes, 1.02 seconds. With John Velazquez riding, Medina Spirit forged to the lead the first time past the finish line. Setting an honest pace, he briefly appeared to be tiring as the field swung into the long Churchill Downs stretch.
But on a day when front-runners seemed do well throughout, no one could get past the son of Protonico. Mandaloun, who raced second through most of the 1 1/4 miles, finished in that position, with Hot Rod Charlie third.
The favorite, previously undefeated Essential Quality, finished fourth.
“I cannot believe he won that race,” Baffert said. “I knew he was training well, but I’m really, really surprised. He’s a little horse with a big heart.”
In his previous start, Medina Spirit let Rock Your World make the early lead, and he wasn’t able to catch him.
“Last time, the other horse showed so much speed and just kept running,” Velazquez said. “Today. I told Bob we were going to put him on the lead and see what happens.”
The colt now has won three of his six career starts and has a chance to become Baffert’s third Triple Crown winner, following American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018. The next step is the Preakness Stakes in two weeks’ time at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Saturday’s 147th running of the Derby was a bright spot for horse racing after more than a year of pandemic restrictions. Those precautions forced Churchill Downs to move last year’s Run for the Roses back four month to September and the race was run without fans.
On Saturday, the fans were back, albeit at less than half the usual numbers. The weather was picture perfect and with a little imagination, “normal” was on the bluegrass horizon.