Medina Spirit wins Kentucky Derby, giving Baffert 7th victory

Published 8:22 pm Saturday, May 1, 2021

John Velazquez was in a familiar place, in the lead aboard Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby and holding off the stretch bid of three challengers. This time, Bob Baffert couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Medina Spirit won by a half-length on Saturday, giving Baffert his seventh victory, the most of any trainer in the race’s 147-year history.

The jockey and trainer — both Hall of Famers — teamed up eight months ago to win a pandemic-delayed Derby in September with Authentic, who raced to an early lead and hung on. That wasn’t so surprising.

This one was.

Sent off at 12-1 — astronomical odds for a colt trained by the white-haired, two-time Triple Crown winner — Medina Spirit was in a street fight thundering down the stretch.

The dark brown colt was pressed by Mandaloun on his outside. Hot Rod Charlie was coming fast outside of Mandaloun, with 5-2 favorite Essential Quality giving chase on the far outside.

“I kept waiting for all those horses to pass him,” Baffert said. “When he got to the eighth pole, we said, ‘This guy has got a shot.’”

Velazquez knew he had plenty of horse left.

“We got to the 16th pole and he put his ears down and kept fighting,” the jockey said. “I was so proud of him.”

In the paddock, Baffert watched in amazement as one of the least heralded Derby runners of his long career dug in at the front.

“You could tell he was laying it down and Johnny was riding hard,” Baffert said. “He was just relentless.”

Medina Spirit led all the way and ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.02. He paid $26.20, $12 and $7.60.

Velazquez earned his fourth Derby victory aboard the dark brown colt that was purchased as a yearling for $1,000 and was a bargain-basement buy at $35,000 for current owner Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia.