Drama aside, Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Medina Spirit made a loud, emphatic statement on Oct. 2 at Santa Anita Park when he seized command out of the gate and proceeded to toy with a solid group of older horses during a five-length victory in the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes.
Ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Medina Spirit got the 1 1/8-miles distance in 1:49.67.
The Awesome Again is a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Challenge Race qualifier and gives Medina Spirit a fees-paid berth into the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar Nov. 6.
Breaking from post position five in a field of eight, Medina Spirit, who was originally ticketed to run a week ago in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, got into his high cruising speed in short order and with his ears pricked turning for home, posed a most elusive target as he widened through the lane.
Most recently a 1 ¼-length winner going a flat mile in the Shared Belief Stakes Aug. 29, Medina Spirit was off as the 6-5 favorite and paid $4.60, $4.20 and $3.40.
“I keep saying and I probably sound like a broken record, but this guy, he has a ton of heart,” said Velazquez, who has ridden Medina Spirit in his last six starts. “He’s very competitive and when the horses come to him, he gives you everything he can. That’s all you can ask of a horse.
“He’s not very big, he’s not very beautiful, but obviously, he’s all heart and you can’t ask for anything else.”
Owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc., Medina Spirit, who is by Protonico out of the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa, picked up $180,000 for the win, increasing his earnings to $2,525,200 from an overall mark of 9-5-3-1.
With the prospect of a Derby disqualification and more hanging in the air nearly five months after the Run for the Roses, trainer Bob Baffert relished his victory in the Awesome Again.
“I’m happy for Zedan and what we have had to deal with,” said Baffert. “We stayed focused on the horses. The fans came out to see this horse and they are rooting for him. I could tell by the crowd noise. They are all pulling for him. It’s an emotional win for us. Johnny can do whatever with the horse. He can wait, stalk, whatever. This horse keeps getting better and better.”
Well back early, Express Train finished well under Juan Hernandez and paid $4.20 to show while off at 6-1.
Fractions on the race were :23.34, :47.72, 1:11.76 and 1:37.05.
“It’s the knack of the horse, they don’t give him much credit, he’s running with all the good horses and keeps showing up and running these kinds of races,” Velazquez said. “The way he ran today, that was impressive, maybe they will give him the credit he deserves now.”