By Richard Rosenblatt
Bob Baffert once again made horse racing history Saturday when the Hall of Fame trainer won a record seventh Kentucky Derby (G1) as Medina Spirit won the Run for the Roses at sunny Churchill Downs.
Sent off as a 12-1 longshot with previously unbeaten Essential Quality the favorite in the field of 19, Medina Spirit took the lead early and held off all challenges, with Mandaloun second, Hot Rod Charlie third and Essential Quality fourth.
The margin of victory was less than a length as Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez won his fourth Derby.
“I was really surprised when he got an easy lead and I kept waiting for these horses to come to him,’’ said Baffert. “But Johnny had him in a perfect spot and when you have him on the lead he’ll fight. When those horses came to him, I could not believe he won this race.”
Baffert came into the 147th Derby under the radar after his two top Derby prospects, Life Is Good and Concert Tour, were taken out of consideration. That left him with third-stringer Medina Spirit, who was more used to running second than first, as he did in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and the San Felipe (G2).
But he turned the tables on everyone with a strong run down the stretch, covering the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.02. Not too bad for a colt purchased as a yearling for $1,000.
“Johnny Velazquez is so cool,’’ said Baffert, who won the 2020 Derby with Authentic – with Velazquez aboard – after the race was rescheduled to Sept. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “He told me last night, don’t underestimate this horse. He’s better than you think he is.”
He sure is, and now it’s on to the Preakness (G1) in two weeks as racing has returned to its usual schedule of Triple Crown races. With the victory, Baffert, once again, is in position to win a third Triple Crown after he won one with American Pharoah 2015 and another with Justify in 2018.
Baffert is the first trainer to win back-to-back Derbies since he pulled it off in 1997-98 with Real Quiet and Silver Charm.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,’’ said Baffert, who has won his seven Derbies in a 24-year span. “I’m so spoiled bringing these heavy-duty horses in here that I tell you that this little horse has a got such a big heart.”
Churchill Downs had a crowd of about 50,000, about eight moths after the 2020 Derby was contested with no spectators.
Medina Spirit was purchased as a yearling at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Winter Mixed Sale.