Baffert Says Derby Winner Medina Spirit Doing Well, Has ‘Heart of Champion’

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Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert with 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit on May 2 at Churchill Downs, one day after his career-defining win. (Coady Photography)

The space for more race plaques on Barn 33 at Churchill Downs is running out of room, but trainer Bob Baffert will have to squeeze in another one after he won a record seventh Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with Medina Spirit May 1.

Baffert stood outside his Louisville barn the morning of May 2, previous accomplishments displayed in the background, after showing off a bright-eyed Medina Spirit.

“There’s no other race like it,” Baffert said of the Kentucky Derby Sunday. “The seven hasn’t sunken in yet. To be able to do it and then get it with a $35,000 horse … it keeps people’s dreams alive.”

Medina Spirit on Sunday at Churchill. (Coady Photography)

Medina Spirit, ridden to victory Saturday by John Velazquez, was a $35,000 2-year-old purchase by owners Zedan Racing Stables. In his last Derby prep race, he finished second in the April 3 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, leaving Baffert in a familiar place.

“I know that I’ve had a lot of winners that ran second in the Santa Anita Derby that win the [Kentucky] Derby,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “My son, Bode, told me the night before, ‘Dad, I think we’re going to win because every time you ran second in the Santa Anita Derby, you win the [Kentucky] Derby.’”

Baffert’s Derby winners Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) were others to run second in the Santa Anita Derby one start prior to winning the run for the roses. Authentic finished second in the 2020 Santa Anita Derby last June before taking the Haskell Stakes in July and the Kentucky Derby in September in a year of shifted calendars from COVID-19. His 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify, won the Santa Anita Derby.

Even more impressively, five of Baffert’s Derby winners have gone on to win the Preakness Stakes. Authentic was only a neck away from doing so when edged by the filly Swiss Skydiver in October.

Though Baffert didn’t fully commit Medina Spirit to the May 15 Preakness yet, he didn’t see any immediate signs that would keep the Protonico colt from heading to Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

“He came out of it well. It usually takes about a week. I just watch them closely. I’m going to come back next weekend, but right now I don’t see anything that would discourage me,” Baffert said.

The trainer added this year, instead of coming in with one of the race favorites, he felt no pressure with Medina Spirit (final odds of 12-1), similar to 2002 Derby winner War Emblem (20-1).

Medina Spirit led at every point of call to hold off Mandaloun by half a length. Hot Rod Charlie was another half-length back in third and held on by a head over favorite Essential Quality in fourth.

“I thought he could hit the board and run a good race, but to win with him it’s like a Cinderella story,” Baffert said. “Here’s a horse that’s just a blue-collar horse, but he’s got the heart of a champion. That’s what I love about that horse. He reminds me of Silver Charm. Just digging in, he would not let those horses past.”

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