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 Run for the Roses.
Under jockey John Velazquez, Medina Spirit jumped to an early lead and fended off challenges down the stretch to cross the line first in front of 51,838 fans 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 1-1/4-mile (2-km) race on a fast dirt track.
“I knew he was training well, but I’m really, really surprised,” Baffert said.
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“When I saw him with the easy lead, I expected these horses to come at him. But Johnny had him in a perfect spot, and if you have him on the lead, he’ll fight,” he said.
“I can’t believe he won this race. That little horse. It was all him, it was all guts.
“That little horse has a big heart.”
Velazquez said the emotion that comes with winning “the most exciting two minutes in sports” has not diminished.
“What an incredible feeling. This doesn’t get old,” Velazquez said after the 12-1 Medina Spirit’s win.
Longshot Mandaloun was second, 5-1 Hot Rod Charlie was third and 5/2 favorite Essential Quality was forced to settle for fourth.
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis
© 2021 Thomson Reuters.