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Medina Spirit Wins the 147th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On one other first Saturday in Might, the fantastic thing about America’s oldest sport battled neck and neck down the stretch with its unseemliness as a colt named Medina Spirit elegantly held off a decided problem from Mandaloun.

They moved in tandem like four-legged ballet dancers — effortlessly, superbly. Nobody right here who liked thoroughbred racing might catch their breath after Medina Spirit crossed the end line half a size forward of the second-place horse and comfortably forward of Sizzling Rod Charlie and pre-race favourite Important High quality.

With the colt’s victory, the Corridor of Fame coach Bob Baffert received his seventh Kentucky Derby, surpassing Ben Jones, who collected his blankets of roses in 1938, 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949 and 1952.

It was a victory that got here with an asterisk, as achievements in horse racing so typically do.

A lot of the information Baffert has made currently has not been good. Regulators in Arkansas final month upheld a ruling {that a} banned substance had been present in two of Baffert’s horses however determined to scale back his suspension to a high quality.

Baffert is the dominant competitor and probably the most questioned in his sport, which lately prompted the passage of federal laws that may usher in the USA Anti-Doping Company — the group that enforces regulation and order in Olympic sports activities — to watch horse racing.

“I’m the luckiest man on the planet,” Baffert stated moments after his record-breaking victory. “I’m so spoiled bringing these heavy-duty horses in right here, and this little horse has a giant coronary heart.”

The bittersweet aftertaste of Medina Spirit’s victory threatened to eclipse the achievement of the colt’s rider, Johnny Velazquez. At 49, the Corridor of Fame jockey had not precisely been left for useless however was considered pulling the shades on the twilight of his profession.


This was his fourth Derby triumph and, in a calendar turned topsy-turvy by a coronavirus pandemic that has left all of us battered, his second in 9 months.

The pandemic compelled organizers to run the 2020 Derby final September in entrance of empty seats, however now America’s best horse race was again.

Type of. The mint juleps flowed whereas exuberant hats and pocket squares bobbed by way of the grandstand and clubhouse of this famed racetrack. However there have been fewer of all of them: Churchill Downs was a 3rd of its 150,000 individual capability, particularly earlier within the day, when it felt like a membership well beyond final name.

There have been some new faces right here, too, that promised to carry new, extra favorable consideration to horse racing. Kendrick Carmouche, in his first Kentucky Derby at 37, was attempting to grow to be the primary Black jockey in 119 years to win the race. His look on an extended shot named Bourbonic added to Black riders’ lengthy historical past within the sport: Oliver Lewis received the primary Derby in 1875, and 15 of the primary 28 editions of the race had been received by Black jockeys, most lately Jimmy Winkfield in 1902.

Carmouche and Bourbonic completed thirteenth.

The beforehand undefeated Important High quality, promised pleasure and a brand new lens to take a look at the game.

Till he didn’t.

A grey son of Tapit, Important High quality got here right here with a gaudy résumé, because the reigning 2-year-old champion and the proprietor of a 5-for-5 file. His coach, Brad Cox, is a Louisville native coming off the best yr of his profession, having received 4 Breeders’ Cup races and been named the champion coach for 2020.

Important High quality’s rider, Luis Saez, is among the high younger jockeys within the nation and was on the lookout for redemption after memorably guiding a colt named Most Safety first throughout the end line right here within the 2019, only to be disqualified for almost knocking over a rival horse and slowing the momentum of others.

The next yr Most Safety’s coach, Jason Servis, can be amongst greater than 27 people charged by federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging scheme to secretly dope horses and cheat the betting public.

When it got here to controversy, although, doping and disqualifications completed a distant second to the questions surrounding Essential Quality’s owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed has spent huge sums in Central Kentucky to construct a breeding and racing operation, however had didn’t win the Derby in 11 earlier begins. Whereas horse racing folks wished to speak about his cash and perseverance, human rights attorneys right here and overseas had been targeted on the sheikh’s function within the disappearance of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, certainly one of his daughters.

Sheikha Latifa has been seen in quite a few movies saying that her father is holding her captive in Dubai and that she fears for her life. “He solely cares about himself and his ego,” she stated.

The United Nations has demanded that the Sheikh Mohammed produce proof that his daughter continues to be alive, and a gaggle from the College of Louisville regulation college filed a criticism with the Kentucky Horse Racing Fee, asking it to bar the sheikh and Important High quality from the Derby.

The declare was shortly dismissed for innumerable causes that could possibly be seen on a pastoral drive by way of the center of the bluegrass territory the place the sheikh has collected farms and quick horses.

Important High quality completed a recreation fourth. Saez didn’t get his redemption. Cox had the double heartbreak of watching his different horse Mandaloun come up simply quick.

And, on the finish of the day, a sport that each transfixes and repels did each once more.

“This by no means will get outdated,” stated Velazquez, rightfully one of many happiest males in horse racing after his victory.

Yeah, nicely, too typically it does.

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