Bob Baffert was supposed to bring another horse, a better horse, to Louisville for Kentucky Derby 147. But at the end of the day, there was just Medina Spirit. Turns out that was enough to make history.
Except for maybe a stride down the stretch, Baffert’s lone entry in this year’s Run for the Roses never trailed, and when he beat Mandaloun by a half-length, he gave Baffert his record-setting seventh win in the Grade 1 classic.
After the race, Baffert compared his latest victory to his first Derby winner, which happened in 1997.
It was a thrilling win,” Baffert said. “And for this little horse, what he did today, he has got so much of Silver Charm in him, just a fighter. (Jockey John Velazquez) put him on the lead and he was going along easy.”
It’s the second straight year that Baffert and Velazquez, a four-time winner himself, met up in the winner’s circle. And like Medina Spirit this year, 2020 winner Authentic went wire-to-wire.
Going off at 12-1 odds, Medina Spirit paid $26.20 to win, $12 to place and $7.60 to show. Mandaloun, one of two Brad Cox-trained colts in the field, paid $23 and $13.40. Hot Rod Charlie, who finished a half-length behind Mandaloun, paid $5.20.
Betting favorite Essential Quality, the other Cox-trained colt, finished fourth, a head behind.
With Medina Spirit and a 27-1 Mandaloun topping the toteboard, the exotics paid handsomely. A $2 exacta paid $503.60. A 50-cent trifecta paid $848.45.
The Kentucky Derby wasn’t the only record-setting effort by Baffert Saturday. With Gamine’s win in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff, Baffert earned his 220th Grade 1 win. Baffert said he heard he was approaching that mark a month ago, but never gave it much thought.
“I don’t think about the records,” he said. “I just want to be back with a horse that’s competitive. The Kentucky Derby, there’s other races, but the Derby is the race. Just to come here with a competitive horse, I thought we had a competitive horse.”
But the horse that was supposed to be Baffert’s top entry was Life is Good, a colt that is undefeated in three starts. However, Baffert bumped him from the Triple Crown trail in late March after the promising prospect injured a leg during a workout prepping for the Santa Anita Derby.
With undefeated 2-year-old champion Essential Quality and others, like Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World, the latter of which beat Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby a month ago, Baffert found himself in an unusual position.
“This year I really enjoyed myself,” he said. “I came in here under the radar. I thought, well, maybe he’ll get a piece of it or something. But Johnny, he kept telling me if he improves off his last race, he’ll run well.”
The history most in the crowd of 51,838 at Churchill Downs thought they would witness was the first Louisville-native trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. Cox had two chances in his first try. Mandaloun came tantalizingly close, but could never chase down the winner.
His other, the favorite, the one that Mattress Mack bet $2.4 million on to win, got bumped early. He ended up staying to the outside of the pack for the mile-and-a-half. Despite that wider than usual trip, he finished just about a length back of the winner.
“He was leaning out on the far turn and Luis (Saez, the jockey) said he was shying away from the other horses,” Cox said. “We will just have to regroup. Proud of both horses. They trained well and just wish the order of finish was just a little different.”
In a cruel twist of fate, Cox would end up winning the next race at Churchill Downs on a 14-1 shot. But as he went to the winner’s circle for a picture, Baffert was still answering questions from reporters.