Three things we learned from the 2021 Kentucky Derby

Profile Picture: Josh Powell

May 3rd, 2021

The 2021 Run for the Roses is in the history books and Medina Spirit reigned supreme for the trainer Bob Baffert and top jockey John Velazquez. Leading from the front, Medina Spirit held on by half a length in a battle with Mandaloun, with Hot Rod Charlie in third and the pre-race favorite Essential Quality in fourth.

Medina Spirit’s win paid out $26.20. Although he certainly wasn’t overlooked by bettors, he didn’t feature near the top of the betting, with Essential Quality, Rock Your World, and Known Agenda attracting the majority of support.

Here are three key learnings from another thrilling Kentucky Derby.

1. Bob Baffert is the King of Churchill Downs

It was seventh heaven for legendary trainer Bob Baffert who made history by becoming the trainer with the most Kentucky Derby wins ever. It started nearly quarter-of-a-century ago as Baffert trained Silver Charm to win the 1997 Derby, and he followed up 12 months later with Real Quiet. In 2002, War Emblem gave Baffert his third Derby win, before a 13-year drought until American Pharoah won in 2015. Baffert has now won three of the last four Derbies with Justify (2018) and Authentic (2020) getting their noses in front before Medina Spirit won on Saturday.

Baffert is 68 years old, but there doesn’t seem any sign of stopping him, and owners are queuing up to send horses his way.

After the race Baffert told reporters, "I may never have another horse good enough for the Derby, but we’re not going to give up."

An ominous statement from Baffert who aims to become the first trainer in Derby history to win three on the spin. A true legend of the Run for the Roses.

2. What Medina Spirit needs to do to win the Triple Crown

If Medina Spirit is to go on and win the Preakness Stakes, there is no doubt he needs to lead uncontested. If we look at his three-year-old season, his best performances have come from the front and he battles all the way to the line, but when he is trying to stalk a leader, he has far less success.

In the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, he was always second behind Life Is Good, and although got to within half a length of him, never found enough to pass him. In the San Felipe Stakes in March, Life Is Good was given an easy lead again, and this time Medina Spirit was beaten by eight lengths. Even in the Santa Anita Derby when Rock Your World took up the running somewhat surprisingly, Medina Spirt couldn’t find enough to pass him.

Compare that to the Robert B Lewis Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, when Medina Spirit dictated from the front and he became a different animal. In the prep race, Medina Spirit had Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurion closing him down with every yard, but he dug in and battled hard to win. In the Derby, Medina Spirit took the lead again and kept Mandaloun at bay before drawing clear in the final strides.

Medina Spirit was challenged for the lead in the early part of the race by Soup and Sandwich, while other pacesetters, Known Agenda and Rock Your World, struggled at the start. If Medina Spirit leads again in the Preakness, he has a real chance of going for the Triple Crown, but if he can’t grab the lead without a battle, he may well be beatable.

3. Keepmeinmind should be remembered for the summer

Keepmeinmind is aptly named, because that’s exactly what we should do when this horse pops up in a few races this summer. He only just qualified for the Kentucky Derby, having picked up 18 points on the Road to the Derby. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club race at Churchill Downs in November, and was second behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity, and third behind the same winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

In the Derby, though, Keepmeinmind put in arguably his most eye-catching run of his career, rallying from last place to finish seventh, only a neck behind Midnight Bourbon. He was largely unfavored in the betting pre-race, but flashed enough quality under the twin spires to suggest he could run a big race in the coming months.