Medina Spirit romps to victory in Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita

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Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez win the Grade I $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Oct. 2, 2021 at Santa Anita.
Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez win the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes by five lengths Saturday at Santa Anita. (Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Medina Spirit left no doubt that his Kentucky Derby win was not any kind of fluke with a powerful performance in winning Saturday’s Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.

The 3-year-old colt has been at the center of the controversy that has swirled around trainer Bob Baffert after the horse tested positive for an overage of betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory, after winning the Kentucky Derby. Baffert said the horse was being treated with an ointment for a rash. The horse has not been disqualified and Baffert has not been charged with anything or had a hearing before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Still, Churchill Downs banned the seven-time winner of the Derby for two years, a situation that will likely be decided in the courts.

But none of that mattered Saturday when the horse, bought for $35,000, edged to the front in the first 100 yards, had a length lead on the clubhouse turn and stretched it out to win by five lengths.

“He’s just getting better and better,” Baffert said. “You can see it and he’s getting stronger. He’s a really good horse. And what he did today against these horses is pretty amazing.”

It was Medina Spirit’s first race against older horses, something he will have to deal with when he runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. The winner of the Grade 1, $300,000 race received an automatic spot in the $6 million Classic, the richest race in the United States.

“This is the time of year when the 3-year-olds catch up with the older horses,” Baffert said. “That’s why I didn’t really worry about him running against older horses. The [3-year-old] horses are all tough, Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality. These are good horses and that’s why at the Derby they were battling.”

There is still the possibility that the Breeders’ Cup could not let Baffert run in the two-day event. A decision is pending but it would be surprising if the organization run by owners and breeders would make their own have to change trainers less than a month before those races.

Medina Spirit paid $4.60, $4.20 and $3.40. Stilleto Boy, the longest price on the board at 55-1, was second followed by Express Train, Tripoli, Tizamagician, Idol, Azul Coast and Midcourt in the 1 1/8 mile race.

John Velazquez, who normally rides in New York, has ridden Medina Spirit since he finished second in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 6.

“I keep saying, and I probably sound like a broken record, but this guy has a lot of heart,” Velazquez said. “That’s all he has. He’s very competitive and when horses come to him, he gives you everything he can. … The way he ran [Saturday], that was impressive. Maybe they will give him the credit he deserves now.”

The crowd of 8,229 was clearly behind Medina Spirit.

“Lots of fans here were rooting for him,” Baffert said. “People were watching him saddle and you could tell by the noise of the crowd that they were all pulling for him. It’s a very emotional win for all of us involved.”

There were two other Breeders’ Cup qualifying races on Saturday and one of them could have easily turned dangerous. Going to Vegas ($4.20 to win) held on to take the Grade 1 $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes by a head and earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The horse is partially owned by MyRacehorse.com, which sells micro-shares of horses. Micro-owners overwhelmed the security at the winner’s circle and about 60 people crowded in, barely leaving enough room for the horse. It’s not unusual for horses to get unruly or spooked and if that had happened people could have easily been injured.

Track officials said trainer Richard Baltas, knowing the horse’s temperament, made the decision to allow the proceeding to continue. The horse remained calm and he was quickly hustled back onto the track.

Going to Vegas, with Umberto Rispoli aboard, holds off Luck, with Flavien Prat aboard, to win the Rodeo Drive Stakes.
Going to Vegas, with Umberto Rispoli aboard, holds off Luck, with Flavien Prat aboard, to prevail in the Grade 1, $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes. (Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

In the other Breeders’ Cup qualifier, Dr. Schivel ($5.60) had the second-most dominant performance of the day when he won the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The 3-year-old got a free pass into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with a 3¼-length win in the six-furlong race. Jockey Flavien Prat was gearing him down the last 50 yards or the margin would have been greater. Trainer Mark Glatt called him “a very special horse” after he won his fifth straight race.

In other graded stakes with Breeders’ Cup qualifying attached to them, Mo Forza ($3.20) rallied late to win the Grade 2, $200,000 City of Hope Mile, a turf race. The 5-year-old was last in the five-horse field halfway through the race but took the lead just before the wire, winning by a half-length. Trainer Peter Miller said he will be pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup.

United ($4.80) won the Grade 2, $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship with a furious stretch rally to win 1¼-mile race by a nose over Acclimate. Trainer Richard Mandella’s 6-year-old gelding will also be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup. Prat was the winning rider. The first weekend of the 16-day fall meeting concludes Sunday with Grade 2 $200,000 Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares going 11/16 miles hoping for a free pass into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.