Medina Spirit overcame tough odds to win the 147th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, giving trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh Derby victory.
Medina Spirit, mounted by jockey John Velazquez, broke out of the gate with an early lead and held fast as the race met the final stretch.
Essential Quality, taking fourth place, was the horse to beat. Entering the race as a favorite with 5-2 odds, the undefeated horse's last-minute sprint from the outside couldn't match Medina Spirit's unflinching pace.
As dominant a trainer he is, the win took Baffert by surprise.
"I cannot believe he won this race," said Baffert, whose horse came in with 12-1 odds. "That little horse has heart."
"He's always shown that he's an overachiever," the Hall of Fame trainer added. "I didn't know if he had that in him."
While Baffert praised Velazquez's belief in the horse, the jockey credited Medina Spirit's stamina.
"Every time I asked him for a little more, he gave me more," Velazquez said. "I was more tired than he was."
Medina Spirit wasn't Baffert's strongest horse. The trainer placed his luck in the horse after his two other contenders, Life Is Good and Concert Tour, fell off the Derby trail from injury and lackluster performance, respectively. Now the Derby's winningest, Baffert breaks his tie with Ben Jones for most victories. It's the fourth Derby win for Velazquez and his second in a row, after he and Baffert finished first with Authentic last year.
Churchill Downs spectators enjoyed sunny weather and, with reduced capacity due to the pandemic, less congested festivities. The event drew more than 51,800 attendees — about 40% of the Derby's normal crowd, said officials.
"In days past, that's all you did all day: wait in line for everything. Go watch the race, then get in line, get in line for a drink, get in line for the bathroom," one local, Tina Cox, told The Associated Press.
Although masks were required, the crowd appeared to have more regard for a dress code of flowery hats and crisp suits. Derby-goers missed the live action last year, when the race ran without fans in the stands.
"It puts a little smiley face on the city for a minute, instead of all the doom and gloom, you come to this beautiful place and feel kind of normal again," Cox said before the race's start. "I always enjoy Derby, but this year it seems like everybody appreciates everything so much more."
With Medina Spirit, Baffert's next stop is the Preakness Stakes on May 15. He'll be looking for another Triple Crown: He led Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015 to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.