By Duane Fonseca
Bob Baffert became the most successful trainer in the history of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby after Medina Spirit spent every bit of himself under John Velazquez to sensationally win the 147th running of the race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday.
The 3yo Protonico colt’s biggest prior victory had been achieved in the Grade 3 Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on 30 January. But in the 2000m event on the hallowed dirt track beneath the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, he turned in a performance that was near legendary as he led from gate to wire to nick the race by a neck and give rider Velazquez a fourth success in the race. It was also a second celebration in as many days for Velazquez, who on Friday, won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks aboard the Shadwell-owned Malathaat trained by Todd Pletcher.
Baffert and Velazquez had saddled Authentic to victory in last year’s Derby, with the US Hall of Fame trainer now winning three of the last four editions of the race.
Medina Spirit was Baffert’s only dispatch this year and in the command of Velazquez he broke smartly and dictated the pace. The race in the final 600m was essentially down to a quartet fighting for victory led by Medina Spirit. Brad Cox’s Florent Geroux ridden Mandaloun gave chase before cutting to the centre, followed by Doug O’Neill’s Hot Rod Charlie driven by Flavien Prat, the 2019 winning rider.
Godolphin’s Essential Quality, the odds on favourite, another Cox trainee was forced to break from a very wide gate No.14 and got bumped early on, which might have made things difficult for him. Unbeaten in five starts heading into the Derby, he was forced to take the wider route and that definitely appeared to do him in.
Medina Spirit was utterly in command though, and even when Mandaloun emerged with a challenge, Baffert’s charge showed plenty of heart to thwart the advance and win. Mandaloun took second with Hot Rod Charlie third and Essential Quality settling for fourth.
Owned by Derby first-timer Amr bin Fareer bin Mohammed bin Zedan, Medina Spirit cost just $1,000 as a yearling, with Zedan purchasing him for $35,000 as a 2yo.
Baffert said: “That little horse wanted it today. He doesn’t know how much he costs. What a little race horse.
“That little horse has got a heart. (Velazquez) told me last night, ‘Don’t underestimate this horse, he’s better than you think, Bob. Don’t worry, we’ll get the job done’.”