San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Medina Spirit lifts Baffert to record seventh victory

- By Beth Harris Beth Harris is an Associated Press writer.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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, trainer Bob Baffert couldn’t believe it.

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

The jockey and trainer — both Hall of Famers — teamed up eight months ago to win a pandemic-delayed, fanless 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 121 — astronomic­al odds for a colt trained by the whitehaire­d, twotime 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 52 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.”

Medina Spirit led all the way and ran 11⁄4 miles in 2:01.02. He paid $26.20, $12 and $7.60.

The Derby went off on a sunsplashe­d day with attendance of 51,838 — about 100,000 fewer than usual. Fans were told to wear masks inside the track, but plenty of them did not.

Velazquez’s fourth Derby victory came aboard a dark brown colt that was purchased as a yearling for $1,000 and was a bargainbas­ement buy at $35,000 for current owner Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia.

“I’m really, really surprised,” Baffert, 68, said.

It wasn’t false modesty. Baffert had been lowkey about his chances after two of his best horses — Life Is Good and Concert Tour — were derailed by injuries.

Medina Spirit has never finished worse than second in six career starts and two of his three losses came to Life Is Good, who likely would have been the Derby favorite had he not been injured.

Mandaloun — one of Louisville trainer Brad Cox’s two entries — finished second and returned $23.00 and $13.40. Hot Rod Charlie, partly owned by five former Brown University football players, was another halflength back in third and paid $5.20 to show.

Essential Quality, also trained by Cox, finished fourth.

Baffert passed Ben Jones, who won his six Derbys between 1938 and 1952.

Earlier Saturday, Baffert saddled Gamine to a 11⁄2length victory in the $500,000 Derby City Distaff, giving the trainer his record 220th Grade 1 stakes win. Baffert broke a tie with longtime friend and fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who had 219 Grade 1 wins in North America.

Velazquez became the first jockey to win consecutiv­e Derbies since Victor Espinoza in 201415. Velazquez, 49, also completed the Kentucky OaksDerby double for the first time since Calvin Borel in 2009, winning the $1 million race for fillies on Friday aboard Malathaat.

O Besos finished fifth, followed by Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmi­nd, Helium and Known Agenda. Highly Motivated was 10th, ahead of Sainthood, Like The King, Bourbonic, Hidden Stash, Brooklyn Strong, Super Stock, Rock Your World (the 92 second choice), Dynamic One and Soup and Sandwich.

 ?? Rob Carr / Getty Images ?? Medina Spirit (right), with jockey John Velazquez up, edges Mandaloun and jockey Florent Geroux at Churchill Downs.
Rob Carr / Getty Images Medina Spirit (right), with jockey John Velazquez up, edges Mandaloun and jockey Florent Geroux at Churchill Downs.

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