Medina Spirit earned a wire to wire win in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit turned the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve into a true Cinderella story with a wire-to-wire win on Saturday, May 1, at Churchill Downs Racetrack, in Louisville, Kentucky. The win gave trainer Bob Baffert his record-setting seventh victory in the race that is billed as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

Sent off as a 12-1 sixth choice in the wagering, Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez loaded into post position eight in the 19-horse field. When the gates opened, Medina Spirit broke cleanly and on the lead while favored Essential Quality and jockey Luis Saez, in post position 14, bumped repeatedly with Rock Your World. Soup And Sandwich, a 26-1 longshot, settled into second as Medina Spirit set early fractions of :23.09 and :46.70.

“(Our) strategy was very simple—break out of there and try to put him in the lead,” Valezquez said of his plan for Medina Spirit. “If somebody wanted to go 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, especially the way he breaks out of the gate.”

As Soup And Sandwich faded entering the far turn, Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie advanced to challenge Medina Spirit. Entering the stretch, Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality all made a bid for the lead, but Medina Spirit dueled gamely to cross the finish line a half-length in front of Mandaloun, ridden by Florent Geroux. It was another half-length back to Hot Rod Charlie and jockey Flavien Prat, with Essential Quality finishing a head back in fourth.

“I know he was going to fight anybody who come to him, and he did today,” said Velazquez, who notched his fourth Kentucky Derby win. “Every time I asked him for more, he kept going more and more. When you ride a horse like this, they fight, and they are competitive. You can’t ask for anything else.”

“It was a thrilling win,” Baffert said. “And this little horse, what he did today, he has got so much of Silver Charm in him—just a fighter.”

Silver Charm was the horse that gave Baffert his first Kentucky Derby win in 1997. Baffert went on to win the Kentucky Derby again in 1998 with Real Quiet, 2002 with War Emblem, 2015 with American Pharoah, 2018 with Justify, and 2020 with Authentic.

Medina Spirit posted a winning time of 2:01.02 for the 1 ¼ mile while earning his third win in six starts. He previously won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) and was second in the Sham Stakes (G3), San Felipe Stakes (G2), and Santa Anita Derby (G1).

The Kentucky Derby winner’s share of $1,860,000 increased his earnings to $2,175,200. It’s a far cry from the $35,000 Amr Zedan, of Zedan Racing Stables, paid for the colt as a 2-year-old, and even farther from the $1,000 bid it took to buy Medina Spirit as a yearling.

Breeder Gail Rice, of Ocala, Florida, needed to reduce her herd size when she consigned a colt by Protonico out of Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed, to the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Winter Mixed Sale. She didn’t put a reserve price on the colt, who sold for $1,000 to pinhooker Christy Whitman.

Whitman got the colt started under saddle and returned him to the 2020 Ocala Breeders’ Sales July 2-Year-Olds in Training and Horses of Racing Age Sale.

Mr. (Oussama) Aboughazale, who’s a dear friend—he runs under Sumaya silks—he owns Protonico,” Zedan said. “We were done shopping, per se, during the auction, and then Mr. Aboughazale calls me and says, ‘There’s this horse by Protonico … would you want to check him out?’ I said absolutely. So I checked him out, and I liked him.”

With the approval of agent Gary Young and Baffert, Zedan bought the colt and named him after his hometown of Medina, Saudi Arabia.

“And the rest is history,” said Zedan, who met Baffert in the Dubai airport last year and told him his dream was to win the Kentucky Derby. “We just bought him, and here we are.”

Medina Spirit is expected to start in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, on Saturday, May 15, at Pimlico Racetrack. The Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, will be held June 5 at Belmont Park.