BOB Baffert trained a record seventh Kentucky Derby winner on Saturday when Medina Spirit made all the running and held on bravely in a four-horse finish at Churchill Downs.
Originally sold for just $1,000 as a yearling and bought by his current owner for a mere $35,000, Medina Spirit was ridden by Johnny Velazquez, who was winning the race for the fourth time, a day after he had ridden the Kentucky Oaks winner, Malathaat.
Turning for home, Medina Spirit was challenged strongly by 26/1 shot Mandaloun with third favourite Hot Rod Charlie and market leader Essential Quality also within striking distance on the outside.
However, Medina Spirit battled on bravely to score by half a length from Mandaloun. Hot Rod Charlie was a length back in third and Essential Quality was a further length away in fourth.
Baffert, who had been forced to rule the exciting Life Is Good out of the race following a setback, told NBC Sports: “I knew he was training well, but I’m really surprised – when I saw him on an easy lead, I kept waiting for these horses to come at him.
“But Johnny had him in the perfect spot and if you have him on the lead he’ll fight. When those horses came to him – I cannot believe he won this race. This little horse, that’s him – he was all guts.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m so spoiled bringing these heavy-duty horses in here, but that little horse he’s got a heart, such a big heart.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet (setting new record), I love the record but it’s one of those things – I’m so thrilled, you just never know if you are ever going to be back. It’s so difficult.
“To win a seventh – we stay focused and working at it. I couldn’t be prouder of my team. But that little horse, he won it today, he doesn’t know how much he cost. You know what, what a little racehorse – he was all racehorse today.”
Velazquez added: “This horse is all heart. We talked about it over and over, and we said ‘just let him fight the whole way around'. Every time I asked him, he gave me more. I was more tired than he was at the finish. I was very proud of him.”
Medina Spirit is by Protonico, a son of Giant’s Causeway and a Grade 2 winner. His breeder Gail Rice was reportedly going through a divorce when she sold Medina Spirit as a yearling for just $1,000 at Ocala Sales in Florida. He returned to Ocala for a breeze-up sale last July when he was sold for $35,000 to Saudi Arabian businessman Amr Zedan, who is new to racehorse ownership.
Baffert and Velazquez won the delayed 2020 Kentucky Derby with Authentic. There were no crowds present on that occasion but there were over 50,000 spectators on-site for this year's edition.