Medina Spirit won the 147th Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs, giving trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh victory in the US flat racing classic.
Puerto Rican jockey John Velazquez piloted Medina Spirit to the front early and held on to win the first jewel of US racing’s Triple Crown for the fourth time as overwhelming pre-race favorite Essential Quality finished fourth.
“I cannot believe he won this race,” Baffert said of 12-1 shot Medina Spirit, who was second in his previous start in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3.
“He won this race. That little horse, it was all guts.”
Velazquez said he and Baffert had decided to take Medina Spirit to the front early, and the strategy paid off.
“Johnny had him in a perfect spot, and if you have him on the lead he’ll fight.”
Mandaloun, a 26-1 shot trained by Brad Cox and ridden by US-based French jockey Florent Geroux, applied the most pressure in the final straight, but settled for second ahead of Hot Rod Charlie, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by another US-based Frenchman, Flavien Prat.
The bigger disappointment for Cox, trying to become the first Louisville-born trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, must be the failure of Essential Quality.
Unbeaten in five prior starts, the gray colt owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin stables left the global racing and breeding powerhouse still seeking a Kentucky Derby win after 12 attempts.
Baffert moved out of a tie with legendary trainer Ben Jones for most career Kentucky Derby wins. His six prior winners of the 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs included Triple Crown winners Justify and American Pharoah.
Baffert admitted he didn’t have the same kind of expectations for Medina Spirit that he had for those greats.
“I’m so spoiled bringing these heavy duty horses here,” he said. “But that little horse has such a heart.”
The Triple Crown chase resumes on May 15 with the Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore, and concludes June 5 with the Belmont Stakes in New York.