Trainer Bob Baffert won a record seventh Kentucky Derby on Saturday when his 12-1 shot Medina Spirit made all to outrun Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality in a thrilling renewal of the $3 million contest.
The victory moved Baffert out of a tie for most wins with legendary trainer 'Plain Ben' Jones, who won six times between 1938-1952.
The modern era belongs to Baffert. All of his Derby winners have been since 1997, when Silver Charm crossed the wire first. Twice his winners captured the Triple Crown, first with American Pharoah in 2015 and followed three years later by Justify.
"The seven wins, it's like, I can't believe I won two," said Baffert, who earlier in the day set a record for Grade 1 victories when Gamine won the Derby City Distaff Stakes.
"This is the only Derby I came in here thinking, 'I just don't know if we got the goods.
"He came through for us. He showed me today, 'Hey, Bob, I'm a lot better than you think I am.' And he's a hell of a lot better than I thought he was. He's a really good horse. He's tough."
In front of a 51,838 crowd, limited to about a third of normal Derbys due to Covid-19 restrictions, Medina Spirit was determined, turning back Mandaloun and rallying bids from Hot Rod Charlie and Godolphin's Essential Quality, both a further half-length back when a head apart in third and fourth respectively.
Saturday's Derby wasn't all about Baffert. Jockey John Velazquez put on a speed-riding display, just as he had the previous September when he rode Authentic to a wire-to-wire score. He notched his fourth Derby win, all within the last ten years.
"Strategy was very simple—break out of there and try to put him on the lead," said Velazquez. "If somebody wanted to go [by] 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."
The first leg of the Triple Crown now complete, attention turns to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 15. The second jewel of the Triple Crown is a race Baffert has also won seven times, including on six occasions with his Kentucky Derby winners.