Medina Spirit Gives Baffert a Record-Breaking Seventh Derby

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Medina Spirit wins the 147th Kentucky Derby | Horsephotos

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LOUISVILLE, KY – Face masks and all, the fans were back at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May–an announced 51,838 of them–and louder than ever. The mint juleps were flowing, the sun was shining and it was Bob Baffert standing in the winner's circle for a record seventh time, passing the legendary Ben Jones at the 147th GI Kentucky Derby.

Zedan Racing Stables overachieving Medina Spirit (Protonico), just a $1,000 OBS Winter Mixed Yearling turned $35,000 OBS July breezer, set the pace and dug down gamely beneath Johnny Velazquez in the stretch to defeat 'TDN Rising Star' Mandaloun (Into Mischief) by a half-length at odds of 12-1. It was another half-length back to Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) in third. Previously unbeaten champion Essential Quality (Tapit), favored at 5-2, was a close fourth after a wide trip.

“This little horse coming in here, he's always shown he's an overachiever,” Baffert said. “His heart is bigger than his body. When he turned for home, something just told me. He reminded me of Silver Charm. He doesn't know how much he cost. He wouldn't let anyone pass him. Mr. Zedan wanted to come to the Derby with a $35,000 horse. I thought we'd see what happens. This horse, the way he ran, I didn't know he had it in him.”

Baffert continued, “Usually when I come in here, I feel like if I don't win–I bring in these heavy-duty horses. This year, I really enjoyed myself. 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.”

Medina Spirit, an ultra-game, wire-to-wire winner of the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. Jan. 30, entered the Derby off a pair of second-place finishes, finishing a well-beaten second in both the GII San Felipe S. Mar. 6 and GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Apr. 3. The debut winner going 5 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos Dec. 11 was also second in the GIII Sham S. Jan. 2.

Medina Spirit was second behind his highly regarded Baffert-trained stablemate 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief) in both the Sham and San Felipe. The undefeated Life Is Good was made the 6-1 individual morning-line favorite in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, but was sidelined by ankle chip surgery in March.

Baffert and Velazquez also won last year's COVID-19 pushed back and spectator-free Derby with Authentic over Labor Day weekend. Baffert's other Derby wins include: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).

“You know, it's one of those things where I've never been keeping score, like records and stuff,” Baffert said of passing Jones on the Derby leaderboard. “Like, the Grade I record, I heard about a month ago. It was a super jinx. And we got it today with Gamine. But the seven wins, it's like, I can't believe I won two. It's just–I leave here, like, wow. Can you believe it? Every time we've won, we look at each other, [my wife] Jill and I: Can you believe we won the Kentucky Derby again? And it's exciting. And I have my brother Bill here. My friend Karl Watson and little Bode. When you have your friends around you, it means a lot.”

Velazquez became the eighth rider to win the GI Kentucky Oaks and Derby in the same year after piloting Malathaat (Curlin) to heart-stopping victory Friday. This was Velazquez's third Derby win.

“Every time I asked him to give more he kept fighting on,” Velazquez 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.”

He continued, “I liked this little horse. I know he's all heart. Strategy was very simple–break out of there and try to put him in the lead. If somebody wanted to go him faster than me, let him have it. I know we were quick. And the more I looked at the race, the more I studied the race, I knew he was faster than the rest of the horses.”

Medina Spirit found himself somewhat surprisingly loose on the lead after speedy second favorite and three-for-three Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World (Candy Ride {Arg}) made a mess of the start.

Velazquez seized the early initiative and got the opening quarter in :23.09 and a half in :46.70 as Mandaloun found a dream spot on the inside in third. Medina Spirit hit the quarter pole in front, to the roar of the crowd, but had a trio of challengers stacked to his outside–Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, a forward factor throughout, and a four-wide Essential Quality, who raced within striking distance in a wide sixth for most of the way.

Medina Spirit appeared to be growing leg weary as Mandaloun, who shadowed his every move, looked like he'd go right by. But Medina Spirit had something left for the stretch and was all heart from there to bring home the roses.

Founded in 2016, Zedan Racing Stables is the nom de course of Saudi Arabian businessman and philanthropist Amr F. Zedan. Zedan Racing also campaigned 2020 GI Del Mar Debutante S. heroine and $1.35-million OBS Spring graduate Princess Noor (Not This Time).

“This is really surreal,” Zedan said. “I really just can't believe it. On the way into the stretch, I just couldn't see anything. It just went gray, and all of a sudden everybody is jumping on top of me. I don't know. It was emotional. It was surreal. It was just amazing.”

He continued, “I knew he had a heart that's bigger than his body. And all we needed is for him to be up front and just keep fighting because no one was going to pass Medina if Medina really got the lead.”

Agent Gary Young, acting on behalf of Zedan Racing Stables, purchased Medina Spirit for $35,000 after breezing three furlongs in :33 at last year's postponed OBS July Sale. Zedan went to $1.7 million to land a colt from the first crop of Horse of the Year Gun Runner earlier this spring at the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale.

“With Protonico [sire of Medina Spirit], Mr. Aboughazale, who's a dear friend and he owns Protonico,” Zedan said. “We were done shopping per se during the auction. And then Mr. Aboughazale calls me and says, 'Well, there's this horse by Protonico that I own the sire, and would you want to check him out?' I said absolutely.”

He continued, “So I checked him out and I liked him. I called Gary and said, 'What do you think?' Let's run it by Bob [Baffert].  Bob gave the okay. So we looked at him, agrees everything was fine. And the rest is history.”

Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby Day program totaled $233 million up 85% from the 2020 Kentucky Derby Day program. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Derby race itself was $155.4 million up 96% from last year's Derby.

Derby Pedigree Notes:

The last time a winner of the Kentucky Derby was bred outside of Kentucky was in 2014 with California Chrome, but it is the state of Florida which ranks second in visits to the hallowed winner's circle with Medina Spirit making it seven. The 11th Triple Crown winner, Affirmed (1978), was the last to hail from Florida, but he is joined by legendary greats Needles (1956), Carry Back (1961), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Unbridled (1990), and Silver Charm (1997).

The TDN's Chris McGrath detailed the success of small breeder Gail Rice last year before Medina Spirit even made his first start. Rice, the mother-in-law of Eclipse-winning rider Jose Ortiz, had also bred last year's GI Ashland S. winner Speech (Mr Speaker) from her small broodmare band.

Rice's former husband, trainer Wayne Rice, purchased Medina Spirit's dam, Mongolian Changa, for $9,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. The filly made six starts at two under his name, winning an eight-furlong maiden special weight at Presque Isle Downs, but retired after bowing a tendon. Rice bred the filly the next year at three and got Medina Spirit as a first and only foal. The Rices divorced and Mongolian Changa was given away, with Medina Spirit himself going through the OBS Winter Mixed Sale ring for a bid of $1,000 from Christy Whitman. He reappeared at last year's OBS July sale, getting a final bid of $35,000 from agent Gary Young on behalf of Zedan Racing Stables after working three furlongs in :33.

While the immediate family is shy of black-type, Mongolian Changa's second dam is a half-sister to MGISW High Yield, who was 15th in the 2000 Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit's fifth dam, the Nijinsky II mare Leap Lively, campaigned as a homebred for Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stables, winning a Group 3 at Ascot and finishing third in the G1 Epsom Oaks 40 years ago. Leap Lively is also the third dam of Canadian Horse of the Year Catch a Glimpse (City Zip) and from the extended family of GISW Warrior's Reward (Medaglia d'Oro).

Mongolian Changa is by the 2011 GI Blue Grass S. winner Brilliant Speed, a Dynaformer stallion whose 129 foals from four crops include one daughter who has produced a black-type winner. That, of course, is Mongolian Changa with Medina Spirit. Brilliant Speed was standing for $5,000 at Three Chimneys Farm when he was struck by lightning and died in 2016.

Standing for $5,000 at Castleton Lyons in 2021 is the Giant's Causeway stallion Protonico, a MGSW who previously stood at both Taylor Made and Darby Dan. Protonico's first crop is three this year and surely he has some of the most unlikely numbers of any sire of a Derby winner: 18 first-crop 3-year-olds, 10 starters, three winners, and one Kentucky Derby winner.

–Jill Williams

Saturday, Churchill Downs
KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY WOODFORD RESERVE-GI, $3,000,000, Churchill Downs, 5-1, 3yo, 1 1/4m, 2:01.02, ft.
1–MEDINA SPIRIT, 126, c, 3, by Protonico
                1st Dam: Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed
                2nd Dam: Bridled, by Unbridled
                3rd Dam: Holy Niner, by Holy Bull
1ST GRADE I WIN. ($1,000 Ylg '19 OBSWIN; $35,000 2yo '20
OBSOPN). O-Zedan Racing Stables; B-Gail Rice (FL); T-Bob
Baffert; J-John R. Velazquez. $1,860,000. Lifetime Record:
6-3-3-0, $2,175,200. Werk Nick Rating: B. Click for the
   eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Mandaloun, 126, c, 3, Into Mischief–Brooch, by Empire
Maker. O-Juddmonte; B-Juddmonte Farms Inc (KY); T-Brad H.
Cox. $600,000.
3–Hot Rod Charlie, 126, c, 3, Oxbow–Indian Miss, by Indian
Charlie. ($17,000 Ylg '19 FTKFEB; $110,000 Ylg '19 FTKOCT).
O-Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, LLC, Strauss Bros Racing
& Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Ltd.; B-Edward A. Cox (KY);
T-Doug F. O'Neill. $300,000.
Margins: HF, HF, HD. Odds: 12.10, 26.90, 5.60.
Also Ran: Essential Quality, O Besos, Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmind, Helium, Known Agenda, Highly Motivated, Sainthood, Like the King, Bourbonic, Hidden Stash, Brooklyn Strong, Super Stock, Rock Your World, Dynamic One, Soup and Sandwich. Scratched: King Fury.
Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.

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