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Kentucky Derby 2021: Medina Spirit wins dominant race

Smash the mint and serve the bourbon, the Kentucky Derby is back!

After a forced diversion by COVID for September last year, Derby returned to its traditional date on the first Saturday in May, and Medina Spirit took advantage of the perfect conditions to win the 147th Kentucky Derby. The victory marked the seventh record Derby win for coach Bob Baffert and the fourth win for jockey John Velazquez.

Medina Spirit, a year bought once for $ 1,000, got a head start on the field, with Soup and Sandwich outside. Pre-race favorites Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality were a long way from the lead at the start, but they started to approach the eight hundred meter mark. At the three-quarter mile mark in the 1 ¼ mile race, Essential Quality started moving from the fifth, but as the field went down the stretch, Medina Spirit just kept the lead. The winning time: 2: 01.02.

Essential Quality entered the race as a prohibitive favorite, with a 3-1 chance and coached by Brad Cox, who grew up just a few blocks from the track. Rock Your World, out of 9-2, rolled with three big wins in Santa Anita. Hot Rod Charlie, the horse belonging to a consortium that includes several former Brown football players, also started the race 5-1.

A little further down the probability sheet, the Known Agenda started at 11-1, largely because of the unfavorable draw on the internal rail. Midnight Bourbon started the race at 12-1, with jockey Mike Smith, twice a Derby winner, on board as a jockey. Another notable horse, Highly Motivated, started with 11-1 chances, but faced some significant headwinds. No horse has ever won from 17th place, and neither Highly Motivated coach Chad Brown nor his jockey Javier Castellanos had ever won in Derby before.

Medina Spirit was listed at 15-1 over the weekend, with a 12-1 chance. Mandaloun finished in second place, with Hot Rod Charlie coming in third to show.


Medina Spirit’s performance surprised even his trainer. “I knew he was training well, but I am very, very surprised,” said Baffert after the race. “When I saw him on the easy guide, I was waiting for the horses to come over him, but Johnny had him in a perfect position. If you have him on the guide, he will fight.”

Executed for the first time in two years during its traditional May weekend, the Kentucky Derby marked yet another milestone in the country’s long return to normalcy after the COVID-19 outbreak. Churchill Downs welcomed fans with up to 60% capacity, not quite the traditional bacchanals of previous years, but more than full enough to welcome a number of well-dressed Derby fans. For example, there was a bold choice to dress like the COVID virus:

Mark Ferguson of Dallas, TX wears a Covid 19 costume prior to the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After a year off, fans came out dressed to the hilt:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Couples have not forgotten how to dress, although their taste, as always, remains a matter of opinion:

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

And then, of course, there were the hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oh, the hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

So, so many magnificent hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A derbygoer who didn’t want to pose for the camera: Aaron Rodgers, the current-but-maybe-not-future quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers became the hottest topic in the NFL on Thursday, amid revelations that he was dissatisfied with the Green Bay Packers, but declined to speak to the camera about his break with the Packers’ board.

Performed under a magnificent blue sky, Derby was a throwback to a time before the blockades and quarantines. For two minutes, it was a reminder that much of what America loves about sports is not over, just temporarily on hold … and now back.

The Kentucky Derby went off on May 1 before the twin spires, in conditions similar to the prior day's Kentucky Oaks, shown here. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)

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