Kentucky Derby 2021: Medina Spirit wins dominating race

Jay Busbee
·4-min read
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Crush the mint and pour the bourbon, the Kentucky Derby is back! 

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

Medina Spirit, a yearling once purchased for $1,000, got out to an early lead over the field, with Soup and Sandwich on the outside. Pre-race favorites Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality were well off the lead early, but began closing at the half-mile mark. At the three-quarter mile mark of the 1 ΒΌ-mile race, Essential Quality began making the move from fifth, but as the field came down the stretch, Medina Spirit just held the lead. The winning time: 2:01.02. 

Essential Quality came into the race as a prohibitive favorite, going off at 3-1 odds and trained by Brad Cox, who grew up just a few blocks from the track. Rock Your World, off at 9-2, rolled in with three big wins at Santa Anita. Hot Rod Charlie, the horse owned by a consortium including several former Brown football players, also began the race at 5-1. 

A little further down the odds sheet, Known Agenda started at 11-1, in large part because of the unfavorable draw on the inside rail. Midnight Bourbon began the race at 12-1, with two-time Derby-winning jockey Mike Smith aboard as jockey. Another notable horse, Highly Motivated, started at 11-1 odds, but faced some significant headwinds. No horse has ever won from the No. 17 slot, and neither Highly Motivated's trainer Chad Brown nor his jockey Javier Castellanos had ever won in the Derby before. 

Medina Spirit had been listed at 15-1 coming into the weekend, with odds finishing at 12-1. Mandaloun finished second to place, with Hot Rod Charlie coming in third to show. 

Medina Spirit's performance surprised even his trainier. "I knew he was training well, but I'm really, really surprised," Baffert said after the race. "When I saw him on the easy lead, I kept waiting for these horses to come at him, but Johnny had him in a perfect spot. If you have him on the lead, he'll fight."

Run for the first time in two years during its traditional May weekend, the Kentucky Derby marked yet another milepost on the nation's long return to normalcy after the COVID-19 outbreak. Churchill Downs welcomed back fans at up to 60 percent capacity, not quite the traditional bacchanalia of years past, but more than full enough to welcome in an array of well-dressed Derby fans. For instance, there was the bold choice to come dressed as 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)
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)
(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Couples hadn't forgotten how to dress up, though their taste, as always, remains a matter of opinion:

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

And then, of course, there were the hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oh, the hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

So, so many magnificent hats:

(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One derbygoer who didn't want to pose for the camera: Aaron Rodgers, the current-but-maybe-not-future Green Bay Packers quarterback. Rodgers became the hottest topic in the NFL on Thursday amid revelations that he was unhappy with the Green Bay Packers, but he declined to speak on camera about his rift with the Packers front office

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Run under magnificent blue skies, the Derby was a throwback to a time before lockdowns and quarantines. For two minutes, it was a reminder that so much of what America loves about sports isn't gone, just temporarily on hold ... and now back.  

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 01: Medina Spirit #8, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, crosses the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby ahead of Mandaloun #7, ridden by Florent Geroux, and Hot Rod Charlie #9 ridden by Flavien Prat , and Essential Quality #14, ridden by Luis Saez, at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 01: Medina Spirit #8, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, crosses the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby ahead of Mandaloun #7, ridden by Florent Geroux, and Hot Rod Charlie #9 ridden by Flavien Prat , and Essential Quality #14, ridden by Luis Saez, at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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