LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) — Medina Spirit stormed to victory in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday to give trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh win in the $3 million Run for the Roses.
Under jockey John Velazquez, Medina Spirit jumped out to an early lead and fended off challenges down the stretch in front of 51,838 fans in Louisville, Kentucky, in the largest U.S. sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The win was Hall of Fame jockey Velazquez’s fourth in the first race of the Triple Crown, which returned to its usual spot – the first Saturday in May – after being pushed to September last year due to the pandemic.
Baffert had downplayed his “little” horse’s chances heading into the race and was stunned to see the dark bay 3-year-old maintain his speed for the duration of the 1-1/4-mile (2-km) trip around the fast dirt track.
“This little horse, he’s always shown that he is an overachiever,” Baffert said of Medina Spirit, who was purchased for $1,000 as a yearling, resold for a mere $35,000 in 2020, and is owned by Zedan Racing Stables.
“His heart is bigger than his body and when he turned for home, something told me that he doesn’t know how much he cost, he wasn’t going to let anybody pass him.”
Velazquez, 49, said the emotion that comes with winning “the most exciting two minutes in sports” has not diminished and praised the 12-1 horse.
“Every time I asked him to give more, he kept fighting on,” he said.
“You couldn’t ask for more of a horse. When you ride a horse like this who is competitive, you can’t ask for anything else.”
Longshot Mandaloun was second, 5-1 Hot Rod Charlie was third and 5/2 favorite Essential Quality was forced to settle for fourth after taking a wide turn heading into the stretch.
Medina Spirit paid $26.20 to win, $12 to place and $7.60 to show.
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis