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Last September, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez teamed up to guide Authentic to a frontrunning victory in the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Just eight months later, Baffert and Velazquez again teamed up to lead their charge to a frontrunning win, as Medina Spirit led every step of the way to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby. For Baffert, today’s victory was his seventh career triumph in the Derby, and for Velazquez, his fourth. Medina Spirit paid $26.20 to win, $12.00 to place and $7.60 to show.
The complexion of the 147th Kentucky Derby changed dramatically at the start, when the first two choices in the wagering, Essential Quality and Rock Your World, slammed into one another, causing Rock Your World to be shuffled back in the pack. Considering he was projected to be either on the lead or close to it throughout, it is safe to say this was a critical moment in the race. John Velazquez was able to clear to the front aboard Medina Spirit, setting an honest pace at every point in the run, with the opening quarter mile up in 23.09, the opening half-mile up in 46.70, and the first three-quarters up in 1:11.21.
As the field rounded the far turn, Florent Geroux and 26-1 shot Mandaloun angled off the rail and loomed as a serious threat to Medina Spirit, as did Hot Rod Charlie, who was the third choice in the wagering at odds of 5-1. Meanwhile, favored Essential Quality was busy navigating an extremely wide trip, forced to race four-to-five wide throughout before going on the offensive around the second of two turns at Churchill Downs.
At the top of the lane, it looked as though Medina Spirit was in deep water, as Mandaloun eyeballed him with just a quarter of a mile left to run. Not only that, but Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality were finding their best stride farther out on the racing surface, emerging as legitimate threats to win the Derby. Instead, the modest $35,000 purchase displayed the heart of a champion, fending off all challengers and prevailing by scant neck over Mandaloun, with Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality rounding out the top-four finishers. Medina Spirit ran the mile-and-a-quarter in a final time of 2:01.02.
Now, as is tradition, all eyes will be on Medina Spirit to see if he can prevail in the Preakness in Baltimore two short weeks from now and secure the second leg of the United States’ Triple Crown.
Below are some observations to consider following the 2021 Kentucky Derby:
- A line needs to be drawn through this race for Rock Your World, as he was essentially eliminated at the start. It will be interesting to see what trainer John Sadler and company choose to do with the talented son of Candy Ride, but given his running style and pedigree, a race like the Belmont Stakes would not seem like an outrageous target for him (assuming he comes out of today’s race in good order).
- Essential Quality ran extremely well considering the start and the wide trip he endured, and he probably still deserves to be considered one of the best (if not the best) three-year-old males in the country.
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- Highly Motivated looked to be in with a chance rounding the far turn, but the concern about his ability to handle additional distance proved to be correct, as he flattened out badly down the lane. Likely one of the more talented horses in this three-year-old crop, look for him to be a major player in races campaigned at shorter distances at a one-turn configuration.
- O Besos put forth a credible effort finishing fifth in the field of 19, solidifying the idea that the Louisiana path to the Kentucky Derby this year was a strong one. Of the top six finishers in today’s Kentucky Derby, four of them had their final prep races in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 20.
- Known Agenda is a three-year-old who will be heard from down the road, but the #1 post was too much for him to overcome. While the new 20-stall starting gate mitigated some of the issues when breaking from the rail, it still does not change the fact that all the other horses are drawn to the outside and want to occupy the position that the horse / rider breaking from post #1 currently have. After being shuffled toward the rear while inside, Known Agenda produced a mild run; do not hold this race against him – he is better than this and will win big races for trainer Todd Pletcher in the future.