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Medina Spirit wins Kentucky Derby; trainer Bob Baffert lands his record 7th

May 1 (UPI) — Medina Spirit led early and never quit, running on to win Saturday’s Kentucky Derby and giving his trainer, Bob Baffert, a record seventh victory in the Run for the Roses.

Even Baffert said he was stunned by the upset by a colt who sold for $1,000 as a yearling and had only two previous wins from five starts.

The victory was all the sweeter for the silver-haired trainer as several of his better-fancied prospects had dropped off the Triple Crown path early, leaving Medina Spirit as his last hope.

Baffert, normally front-and-center on Derby week, had been flying beneath the radar and out of the Churchill Downs spotlight as Medina Spirit was overlooked by most of the expert handicappers.

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 or third through most of the 1 1/4 miles, briefly got to even terms at mid-stretch, but finished second, 1/2 length back of the winner, 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, the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Velazquez 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,” said Velazquez, who won the Derby for the fourth time. “Today, I told Bob we were going to put him on the lead and see what happens.”

Rock Your World, meanwhile, was soundly bumped at the start Saturday, shuffled back in the 19-horse field and beat only two rivals as one of the wagering favorites.

Medina Spirit now has won three of his six career starts. He was 4 1/2 lengths back of Rock Your World at the finish of the Santa Anita Derby and, in the race before that, finished second, 8 lengths behind another Baffert horse, Life Is Good, in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Now, only he 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, followed by the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks after that.

The colt is owned by Zedan Racing Stables, founded in 2016 by Saudi businessman Amr Zedan. He changed hands twice, with Zedan acquiring him for $35,000. His Derby earnings pushed his bankroll to $2,175,200.

Medina Spirit is named for the city of Medina, second holiest city in Islam, after Mecca.

His sire, Protonico, is by Giant’s Causeway, a major figure in English and Irish breeding who finished second by a neck behind Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Giant’s Causeway, in turn, was sired by Storm Cat, whose progeny have helped shape American racing.

The Derby was the high spot of a generally spectacular day for Baffert as he moved out of a tie with Ben Jones to become the all-time leading Derby trainer.

Earlier on the Churchill Downs program, he saddled Gamine to win the $500,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff — his record 220th Grade I score. He had been tied with D. Wayne Lukas for that mark.

Two races later, he sent out Du Jour to victory in the $500,000 Grade II American Turf. The pot for that was sweetened by the fact Baffert’s wife, Jill, is a co-owner, and that Baffert seldom trains turf horses.

Saturday’s 147th running of the Derby was a ray of sunshine — literally and figuratively — after more than a year of pandemic restrictions had throttled racing.

Those precautions forced Churchill Downs to move last year’s Run for the Roses back four months to September, and the race was run without fans.

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.

Especially as “normal” now seems to mean a Baffert horse wins the Kentucky Derby.

Highlights of the 2021 Kentucky Derby

Jockey John Velazquez aboard Medina Spirit wins the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2021, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Jockey John Velazquez pours water on Medina Spirit to help cool him down after they won the Kentucky Derby. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Jockey John Velazquez (L) and trainer Bob Baffert celebrate after their horse, Medina Spirit, won the Kentucky Derby. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Jockey John Velazquez (L) celebrates with Medina Spirit after they won the race. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality prepares to go to the track during for an early morning workout Thursday at Churchill Downs. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

A woman wears a colorful hat Saturday before the start of the Kenucky Derby. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

A man wears a colorful horse hat before the start of race. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

Horse racing fans show off their Derby fashions as they wait for the 147th running of Derby. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

A woman wears a colorful hat prior before the start of the race. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

Mark Ferguson wears a coronavirus-themed hat and costume as he waits for the race to begin. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

A woman wears a colorful hat before the start of the racey. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

A woman wears a colorful hat prior before the start of the race. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

Horse racing fans show off their Derby fashions as they wait for race. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

A man wears a colorful horse hat before the the start of the race. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

A man wears a colorful hat before the start of the race. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

Essential Quality heads for the track. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Mandaloun tries to bite his groom after an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Oaks hopeful Crazy Beautiful goes out for a gallop. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

A jockey takes his horse to the track for an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Oaks hopeful Travel Column circles the track. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Derby hopeful Mandaloun is washed down by his grooms after a workout on Wednesday. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Derby hopeful O Besos walks on the track during the morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Kentucky Derby hopeful King Fury gallops on the track during a morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Grooms wash down their horse after an early morning workout on the track. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Horses and exercise riders gallop on the track during early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Essential Quality is washed down by his grooms after a practice run. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Known Agenda gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Helium gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Soup and Sandwich gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Highly Motivated gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

King Fury gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Dynamic One gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Super Stock gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Sainthood gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Hot Rod Charlie walks on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Trainer Bob Baffert watches his horse, Kentucky Derby hopeful Medina Spirit, gallop on the track. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Medina Spirit gallops on the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Grooms wash down their horses after a working out on the track. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Exercise riders walk their horses on the track during early morning workouts Tuesday. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

An exercise rider takes his horse to the track during an early morning workout. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Horses and riders prepare for a workout on the track under the pink moon. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

Source: Medina Spirit wins Kentucky Derby; trainer Bob Baffert lands his record 7th

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