Medina Spirit gives Bob Baffert record 7th Kentucky Derby win

Just when you think he doesn’t have a chance, just when you think there are much better horses, Bob Baffert figures out a way to win the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert became the all-time winningest Kentucky Derby trainer when Medina Spirit gave him his seventh victory in the most famous of all horse races. The 3-year-colt went to front early and just stayed there over the course of 1 ¼ miles.

“Johnny [Velazquez] had him in a perfect spot and if you have him on the lead, he’ll fight,” Baffert said. “[When] those horses came to him … I can’t believe he won this race. It was all him. That little horse, it was all guts.”

The winning margin was a half a length.

Medina Spirit paid $26.20, $12.00 and $7.60. Mandaloun finished second and Hot Rod Charlie was third. The favorite, Essential Quality, was fourth followed by O Besos, Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmind, Helium, Known Agenda, Highly Motivated, Sainthood, Like The King, Bourbonic, Hidden Stash, Strong, Super Stock, Rock Your World, Dynamic One, and Soup And Sandwich.

Medina Spirit was a $35,000 purchase and wasn’t on the radar of many people after a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert, talking with reporters early in the week, candidly said he wasn’t the best horse in the race.

But on Saturday, in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby, witnessed by 51,838 fans, Medina Spirit was the best.

It was thought to be one of the more competitive Derbies going into the race with no prohibitive favorite. There were three undefeated colts with Essential Quality getting most of the attention based on winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Blue Grass Stakes. Rock Your World was also undefeated in three starts, two of them on grass. He won the Santa Anita Derby in convincing fashion. And there was Helium, who was lightly regarded since his big win was in the Tampa Bay Derby and hadn’t raced since March 6.

It was also the first Kentucky Derby in more than 40 years where none of the horses were allowed to race with Lasix, a medication designed to combat bleeding from the lungs. The change was brought on by sweeping safety and medication reforms in the industry in the wake of all the horse fatalities at Santa Anita in 2019.

The odds board stayed pretty consistent despite the presence of Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a furniture store magnate in Houston. On Friday, he placed a $500,000 bet on Essential Quality, dropping him to 3-5 odds. He laid more than $1.5 million more Saturday. McIngvale is known nationally as the man who allows displaced people stay in his furniture store when Houston has had problems such as hurricanes or flooding. He’s also the owner of Runhappy, a stallion many have become familiar with because of all the signage McIngvale buys at race tracks.

Trainer Bob Baffert is greeted by his wife, Jill, after winning the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit.

Trainer Bob Baffert is greeted by his wife, Jill, after winning the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit.

(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

The Kentucky Derby on Saturday was different in many ways — except that Baffert won it again — but yet some sense of normalcy was brought back to this city whose biggest identity is being the home to the Kentucky Derby. The main difference between last year and Saturday was that the race returned to the first Saturday in May instead of the first Saturday in September 2020.

The one welcome abnormality was that there was perfect weather. The last time there was no rain at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby was 2014 and 2015. Then, you have to go back to 2005 and 2006 for rain-free Derbies.

The wettest Derby was in 2018 when Justify won the first leg of the Triple Crown. There was 3.15 inches of precipitation that day.

Will Medina Spirit be the next horse to win the Triple Crown? We’ll know more in two weeks when the next stop on the road to immortality stops in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes.

California winners: It was a good day at Churchill Downs for Santa Anita-based trainers, jockeys and horses. Baffert picked up his 220th Grade 1 stakes victory by winning the $500,000 Derby City Distaff with Gamine. Baffert also won the Grade 2 $500,000 American Turf with Du Jour. The horse is co-owned by his wife, Jill. John Sadler won the Grade 1 $500,000 Churchill Downs when Flagstaff put his head out in front to win.

Jockey Flavien Prat had a great day with three major stakes victories. In addition to winning for Baffert aboard Du Jour, Prat also won two races for Chad Brown, the Grade 2 $500,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile aboard Blowout and a dead heat in the Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic while riding Domestic Spending.

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