Derby Recap: The Stuff of Dreams

Even a Bob Baffert victory in the Kentucky Derby, as common as it has become, occasionally has a back story to warm the soul. This is one of those stories. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Recap: The Stuff of Dreams

By Steve Haskin

It was a scene that has become all too familiar. Yes, Bob Baffert won yet another Kentucky Derby. Yes, he won it with a horse on an unchallenged lead. No, none of the closers were ever in the race. We’ve seen this movie before, but if you happened to walk in at the end of this particular movie you missed the best part.

It would be like seeing Cinderella live happily ever after with Prince Charming without knowing how she got there. In the world of Thoroughbred racing, Cinderella usually never meets Prince Charming or attends the king’s ball. But there are those very rare occasions that the fairy tale does come true, and that is where the story of the 2021 Kentucky Derby begins.

For Christy Whitman and all those whose lives revolve around mostly cheaper horses, they are too busy trying to eke out a living to ever dream about blankets of roses draped around their horses or mingling in the same circles as Bob Baffert and racing’s nobility. If they ever do dare to dream of such things they are quickly jolted back to reality.

When Whitman attended the 2019 Ocala January mixed sale, she came with her usual small budget hoping to find a couple of cheap newly turned yearlings that she could one day pinhook and hopefully make a small profit. She can’t afford to look for horses at the larger sales later in the year, so she attends the bargain basement sale at the beginning of the year when young horses are still babies and it requires a keen eye to project what they will be like when it is time to breeze them in front of prospective buyers at the horses of racing age sales.

On this particular occasion, Whitman’s exercise rider Jose Gallego, who breezes her horses, asked her if she could pick up something inexpensive for him to pinhook. Whitman is a back ring buyer. Before the horses enter the sales pavilion they walk around the back ring. That is where Whitman watches them and tries to spot one that catches her eye, mainly how they walk and how correct they are. You rarely see a horse at these sales that is perfect so you have to learn when to forgive imperfections, which many horses will grow out of.

Being a back ring buyer Whitman doesn’t have enough time to send a vet to look at the X-rays or scope a horse. In addition it gets to be expensive to have multiple horses vetted. So she quickly checks the vet’s findings on the radiographs that the consignors bring to the sales ring with the horse. Having an unfinished degree in equine physiology at the College of Central Florida’s equine program, she took several classes and did a great deal of studying on how to read the vet reports and understand the terminology. This enables her to make snap decisions on whether a horse’s issues are something she can deal with and if she should take a chance or not. Decisions have to be made quickly before heading into the sales pavilion.

One horse that caught Whitman’s eye in the back ring was a smallish colt, almost black in color, who had a great walk, a good top line, and seemed very athletic. He did have a very mild case of sesamoiditis (pressure or stress on the sesamoid bone), but nothing she would consider an issue. She looked at his page in the catalog and saw that he was a son of Protonico, who she never heard of.

“I could picture him standing in someone’s backyard,” she said. Although she wasn’t familiar with Protonico or the broodmare sire Brilliant Speed, she liked what saw from a physical standpoint. The breeder of the colt, Gail Rice, was going through a divorce at the time and had to sell one of her two colts. She chose the Protonico colt and was so desperate she didn’t even put a reserve on him. She would take whatever she could get for him.

As it turned out nobody ever even looked at the colt and when the bidding opened at the bare minimum of $1,000, Whitman’s was the only bid. No one had even the slightest interest in this obscurely bred colt. “I guess nobody liked his catalog page,” Whitman said.

After the sale, Rice went over to Whitman and thanked her for buying the colt and asked her what she was going to do with him. Whitman told her she was going to send him to her farm and probably pinhook him the following year. The goal now was to make a decent profit for Gallego, which wouldn’t be difficult considering the rock-bottom price she paid for him.

At the farm, Whitman liked everything about the colt. “He was well-mannered, easy to ride, and very professional,” she said. Jose helped break him and began riding him and thought he was a good mover with a great temperament and liked what he felt under him. Although he was laid back he began to show something on the track. Maybe they actually had a runner on their hands. Whitman and Gallego were excited to get him into a 2-year-old sale.

“I really never get to sell anything halfway decent,” Whitman said. “With his pedigree and what we paid for him we couldn’t get in any of the big sales so we got stuck in the July sale.”

Whitman consigned the colt under the name Whitman Sales, agent, and did not charge Gallego any fee. At the breeze show, which is all about speed and how well a horse gets around the track, they put blinkers on the colt for his three-furlong breeze. Gallego mounted Hip No. 938 and at 10:30 a.m. with the temperatures already nearing 90 degrees, he broke off on a 33-second ride that would one day change his and Whitman’s life. The colt was smooth and responsive around the turn, cut the corner beautifully, and changed leads on cue after straightening into the stretch. Gallego drew his whip in his left hand just to show it to him and the colt began striding out, flicking his ears around. When Gallego pushed him nearing the wire the colt pinned his ears as if knowing it was time to let it all out. He cut the corner sharply on the gallop-out and then was pulled up after what looked to be an excellent work.

All Whitman and Gallego could hope for now was that someone watching was impressed enough to bid on the colt. That someone was professional clocker and bloodstock agent Gary Young, who purchased him for $35,000 for Zedan Racing Stables, a moderate price in the grand scheme of things, but still a hefty profit on the original $1,000.

Whitman was thrilled when she found out the colt was being sent to Bob Baffert. The colt, now named Medina Spirit, showed that same speed he displayed at the sale when he won his debut by three lengths in a swift 1:02 4/5 for the five and a half furlongs. Baffert felt he didn’t need the blinkers. If he was to become a Derby horse he had to harness some of that speed so he removed them for his next start, the on-mile Sham Stakes.

But at Baffert’s barn there usually is always someone faster, and he had a rocket named Life is Good who looked to be his main Kentucky Derby hopeful, and it was a bit of a surprise to see Medina Spirit gaining ground quickly on Life is the Good in the (late stages of the) Sham Stakes, although the winner was being eased down the stretch. There was another (colt) in the barn named Concert Tour who also was very fast and appeared to have a bright future after winning the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, so Medina Spirit was relegated to third best of Baffert’s Derby horses despite scoring a gutsy victory in the Rrobert B. Lewis Stakes, in which he refused to let the promising Roman Centurian and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Hot Rod Charlie get by him, winning by a neck in three-horse blanket finish.

Medina Spirit continued to run hard every race but still couldn’t beat Life is Good, who finished seven lengths ahead of him the San Felipe Stakes. But he came out the race with a small ulcer in his throat and began showing signs of entrapping his epiglottis, so they performed a procedure to correct the problem and he didn’t get back on the work tab for another 16 days. He then was beaten 4 ¼ lengths by rising star Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby, but like in the San Felipe he battled back to finish second. In five start, he had never finished worse than second.

Baffert had other promising colts in the barn, including grade 1 winner Spielberg and several well-bred youngsters who were fast but late getting started. However, when it was time for the Kentucky Derby, Baffert was down to one colt – Whitman’s $1,000 purchase. Life is Good had injured himself and Concert Tour suffered a surprising defeat in the Arkansas Derby and it was decided to skip the big race and possibly wait for the Preakness.

“I couldn’t believe it when he wound up with Baffert and was so thrilled he turned into such a good horse,” Whitman said.

On Derby morning, the excitement began to build and the scope of it all finally sunk in. “For this little colt to be the only one left to make the Derby is unbelievable,” she said.

All Whitman knew was that if he could get the lead he would be very hard to pass. “This horse has so much heart and guts and has so much fight in him I know they won’t have an easy time getting by him. In the Robert Lewis, the way he fought them off, I’ve never seen a horse fight like that.”

Whitman normally would watch the Derby at home with her two daughters, Ashley and Erica, ages 11 and 12, but with the new World Equestrian Center in Ocala having a Derby party she decided to watch it there. It had been a tough year for her and her daughters. Like Gail Rice, she had recently gone through a divorce and felt it would be good for all of them to get out and be with people and enjoy watching their horse on the big screens. That week her youngest daughter took her shopping to buy her a dress with the money she had earned from selling her show lamb at the local county fair. So they wound up getting matching dresses to wear at the party.

“They both have grown up at the barn and at the sales,” Whitman said. “I was on the pony horse and pregnant at the OBS June sale each year they were born, so they have been involved with the consignment through the years. They know this is huge for me and an important accomplishment, but I’m not sure they really grasp just how special and how once in a lifetime this moment is.”

It was as if Whitman had scripted the entire race out, as Medina Spirit went to the lead and dictated the pace. Just like in the Robert Lewis, they came at him in the stretch – Risen Star winner Mandaloun, Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie, and the undefeated 2-year-old champion and favorite Essential Quality. Once again, the little black colt with the big heart wouldn’t let any of them get by him.

Sometimes you never know what is hidden behind a $1,000 sales slip. That pedigree no one was interested in more than two years earlier had once again come out in him. It was a pedigree inundated with horses who showed great courage and a willingness to fight. His sire that no one heard of won the 2015 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs after a stretch-long battle in which he appeared to be beaten. But he lunged forward at the wire to stick his nose in front. Protonico is a son of Giant’s Causeway, arguably the gamest European horse in the past quarter of a century, winning five consecutive Group 1 stakes by under a length, including three by a head. In each race he refused to let the best horses in Europe get by him. And don’t forget his gutsy performance against the equally courageous Tiznow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic when his rider dropped the reins right before the wire, losing by a neck. Medina Spirit’s broodmare sire Brilliant Speed won the Blue Grass Stakes by the closest of noses; Brilliant Speed’s sire Dynaformer won two stakes by a nose and a half-length; and Dynaformer’s sire Roberto won the English Derby in the closest finish in the history of the race, outbattling eventual Arc de Triomphe winner Rheingold in a finish so close his rider Lester Piggott dismounted before it was official because he thought he has lost. Finally, in Medina Spirit’s tail-female family, his third dam is by Holy Bull, out of a Forty Niner mare. Holy Bull scored one of the gutsiest victories in the history of the Travers Stakes and Forty Niner was involved in nine photos, winning the Haskell and Travers by a nose, outgaming Seeking the Gold each time. That is the family you want in a street fight, and Medina Spirit has yet to let any horse pass him in the stretch.

And of course it doesn’t hurt having three doses of the legendary Secretariat in your pedigree though his three omnipotent daughters Weekend Surprise, Terlingua, and Secrettame. Has there ever been a wider chasm than the one between Secretariat and a $1,000 yearling purchase?

“It was surreal,” Whitman said. “At the top of the stretch I kept thinking here they come, here they come. I was waiting for him to get tired as they got closer down the lane. Then I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, he again would be able to hold them off like he had done in the past. Then it hit me. There was no way they were going to catch him. As they came to the wire we were all screaming and jumping up and down. I was in shock and started crying. And then I couldn’t stop shaking. It was all so overwhelming and emotional because I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I have never been able to get a break and the fairy tales always seemed to come true for other people, but not for us.”

Later that evening Whitman said, “I still can’t stop shaking. It hasn’t totally sunk in yet that I actually bought and sold a Kentucky Derby winner. I’m still trying to comprehend how this little colt won the Kentucky Derby, because I know what an accomplishment this is and all the odds this colt beat to even get there. He’s just an amazing, courageous horse. It was so special having my two daughters with me. They are my pride and joy. For Jose and me this is a dream come true. He called me after the race and thanked me again for picking out and buying the horse and consigning him to the 2-year-old sale. It was an incredible moment for everyone involved.

“This year has been hard on us and this definitely was a much-needed positive in our lives and I hope will be the turning point I needed in my business and my life. After the Derby we went out to eat and celebrate with some close friends and it was such a happy night that we needed so badly. It’s been particularly tough on my daughters with their father leaving and the circumstances surrounding it.”

But in the horse business, rejoicing is short-lived and one must quickly return to reality. The next morning it was business as usual for Whitman. She was up early and went out to the training center to check on her horses that that would be heading out to the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale at Timonium the following day.

She also keeps several yearlings and a few mares at her house. One of the mares recently foaled and another is due soon so she has to keep a close eye on them.

“There are no holidays, sick days, or vacations with horses,” she said. “They always come first.”

So now the story of Bob Baffert’s seventh Kentucky Derby victory is complete. Cinderella had “met” Prince Charming and felt the exhilaration of attending the king’s ball. Although her real life has been hard this past year, because of a little $1,000 horse that no one but her wanted, she and her daughters can live happily ever after.

Photos courtesy of Louisville Courier Journal, Gail Rice, Benoit Photos, WDRB

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213 Responses to “Derby Recap: The Stuff of Dreams”

  1. Delrene Sims says:

    Another great behind the scenes story of a Kentucky Derby champion. I don’t have the ability to write how this back story affected me. Tears of joy for these incredible women Mrs Rice, Mrs. Whitman. There are so many women who can empathize with their struggles and triumphs All the heart and grit that helped this beautiful spirited Thoroughbred on his path to the Derby..
    I was there at the Santa Anita Derby down in the walking ring and thought with that “look”. he was a beautiful horse. On that day though ( after 2 years of non attendance). The horse that caught my eye was Rock Your World. Since I hadn’t followed the progress of any of these horses and knew little or nothing about any of them, I went with the horse that looked to be ready to rock and roll. The only bet I made that day at a very subdued Santa Anita Derby. I just felt good that he won and that Medina Spirit came in second. ….
    I watched the derby coverage with much interest. But I must comment that with so many horses and trainers I do wish the coverage would include the lesser known individuals and horses. Imo any horse or trainer that is there deserves coverage. However little. O Besos has a great backstory as well. It’s not all Pletcher, Cox and Baffert, however so deserving. Others should get spoken about as well. Just my opinion.
    Thank you Mr. Haskin for telling us all about Medina Spirit’s history and those folks who believed in him. I sincerely hope he stays healthy, happy and well and why not, a triple crown winner. I bet there are many calls being made for dates with Protonico!
    and on to the Preakness perhaps…. MS will always be a grand story. You told it so brilliantly.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      So glad you enjoyed the story Delrene, Thank you. Sometimes even when you think there is no story there turns out to be a great one.

  2. Bill S says:

    Great story and writing. I was moved by your desire to bring out of the heart and passion of those who are a part of the racing world. We sometimes forget how emotionally involved people are with their horses, like parents sometimes. Great job showing us the world behind the races. Love your work and how well you write from your heart.

  3. Tom’s Kid says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. You are the best at revealing the rest of the iceberg. Once again I found the best/worst losing bet of the day. 7,8,9/7,8,9/6,14,15,17 trifecta. I did box 7-9 for the $1 exacta.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much. I appreciate it. Glad you at least hit a nice exacta.

    • Matthew K W says:

      I had the worst winning bet—6,7,8,9,14 tri box cost $30 paid $848 but that box would have won the $9K super and it would have won the $296K super-high five…

  4. Cliff says:

    I have never responded to a forum before but I really appreciate your efforts, Steve.

    I am a contemporary of yours having been born in the late 40’s in Brooklyn. I was raised in the Coney Island Houses project and came to love horse racing in early 1960. My favorite horses were Kelso and the trotter, Su Mac Lad. I have a burning racing question which I fear will never be answered-What was and who won the feature stakes race at Aqueduct on Saturday, June 15, 1963. I ask this because while watching the telecast on my 10″ black & white TV I was informed that my father had passed away. He died on his 23rd wedding anniversary and was buried on Father’s Day. I was fifteen years, eight days and forty five minutes old when he left me. I still miss him.

    But life must go on and ten years later, right after Secretariat’s magnificent Belmont, I decided to quit my accounting job and move like a tremendous machine to Florida where I would earn my keep as a horse player. (Sing to the tune of “Young & Foolish”). Two months and $2000 later I promised my wife ( a promise I have kept) that I would never gamble again.

    However, I still love horse racing and trying to pick winners. I was rooting for Medina Spirit for he is a blue collar and gritty horse.

    Steve, I have read all of your books and most of your website essays and consider you to be the best turf writer since Joe H. Palmer and on a par with baseball’s Rogers-Angell and Kahn. You come across as a man of decency and compassion. This sad world could use more of your ilk.

    I am not a writer but have had a bunch of poems published in newspapers. I would like to share one with you which I believe, from what you have written, that you can relate to. It is not about racing although you could say that it speaks of a favorite filly.


    Over four decades ago I first glanced your way
    Enchanted by a wholesome visage and gentle sway
    Unknowingly guided by heavens above
    Dreams were meshed into a mosaic of our mellow love

    We embraced the good Lord and grew in grace
    The glow of His Spirit was etched on your face
    Holding my hand when I was blind
    Your walk was clear and your manner kind

    Bearing our child and keeping the home
    Placing our needs ahead of your own
    With intuitive wisdom and words crystal pure
    Your nurturing allowed us to become mature

    Now that wrinkles sprout and the gait has slowed
    I’m acutely grateful for the privilege of
    Sharing my life with one so sublime
    Until the hour glass sputters and runs out of time

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Cliff, I dont know where to begin. First off, your poem really moved me and was so beautifully written. It reminded me so much of some of the poems I’ve written to my wife. I dont know if you read my column a few years back titled “A Love Letter to Joan.” If not I can email it to you (just email me your address at There is poetry included. The story of your father’s death also moved me because it reminded me of my father’s death when I was 24 and he was such a great supporter of mine and I believe has been watching over me my whole life. My father also grew up in Coney Island. He went to Lincoln high school as I would guess you did. I’m so glad you reached out to me and cant thank you enough for all the kind words. Please stay in touch. I will try to find someone at Bloodhorse to look that up about the feature race from the old chart books. If I find out I will email it to. All the best.

    • Deacon says:

      Cliff: Your poem was very moving cathartic. I have been married to my gorgeous for 51 years, she is my daily light.
      You write eloquently, you should consider writing more in the future.

      Best of luck to you.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Both of you were married in 1970. We’re the babies, only 41 years for us come September.

        • Ms Black Type says:

          Got you both beat. A mere 38 years for me and mine. I’ve written at least one poem for him too — too emotional to reprint here!

      • Cliff says:

        Thank you, Deacon. To bask in the glow of a loving spouse is a blessing. There is nothing more enchanting than the look of a woman in love.

        May you have many more years of wedded bliss.

  5. Good to see you Steve on this site. How fitting. You’re the best. I have followed your Derby Dozen for many years. So this year, I trusted my emotions rather than speed, pedigree, or what have you figures. I research the contenders based on their development from very young. Their personalities. For example, Justify. His breeder, Tanya Gunther, said that he had to be the first one out in the pasture. And he was tugging on her all of the way. Many discounted him because of the curse. Not me. Fast forward to Medina Spirit. He caught my eye early on because he reminded me of Shared Belief. His looks, demeanor and the way he ran. I became emotionally attached. Just as I had been to Justify and others. So, even though there were others more favored in this year’s Derby, I bet Medina. I knew he was a fighter as everyone said. But his win was special to me because my husband of 39 years lost his life to cancer on April 15. Despite the sorrow, I had the Derby to look forward to ease the pain. Thank God for horse racing. And Medina delivered! I cannot explain how elated I felt. I love Medina’s back story and all who have been involved with his development. The colt that no one wanted wins the Derby. I’m sure my hubby was chuckling all the way to finish line. Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much for sharing that and my deepest condolences on the loss of your husband. If Medina Spirit was able to ease the pain just a little then his victory was all the more gratifying. He does remind one of Shared Belief in color and size. I’m very glad you found us here and hope you keep returning,

    • Mike Relva says:

      Very sorry for your loss. Hope you continue moving forward.

    • Ms Black Type says:

      Clue, I so appreciate you sharing your story with all of us that follow Steve’s blog. I too am sorry for your loss — glad to know Medina Spirit helped ease your pain. Best wishes to you.

  6. pro vet says:

    Picked Charlie……….2 speed horses scratched……2 others had bad starts…….i did my job………….what a dream for Medina……..

  7. DES says:

    Medina Spirit is in the drivers seat for 3YO Champion, Derby winners usually win it. I think Essential Quality might need to win the Preakness if he is to become a back to back Champion.

  8. pro vet says:

    Mandaloun crossfired for 10 strides jock pulled him back early in La derby….and he took off……….cross firing is not good……he actually did this 3 races……not in derby…………when a horse is in traffic…..things happen……….HRC was in traffic passing wire 1st time…..he steadied, thru head up……
    Trips are important……if Rock didnt have trouble, Charlie might have won…..or EQ…….that’s racing

  9. Angela Whyland says:

    Everyone has different perspectives on a race; maybe, from where they are coming from. Thank you for this one. Not speaking for anyone else, and despite some other things but I do think that some really needed this back story 🙂

  10. Matthew W says:

    I LIKE 20 horses, makes it a better wager, what happened the other day was some horses had bad starts, and the pace– over a FAST track—was not kind to the closers, on THAT track yhe pace was SOFT!

  11. EddieF says:

    Steve, sorry that this post isn’t about the Derby winner. It’s about Mandaloun, who before the Louisiana Derby was one of my two top choices for the KD. In the final ranking, you wrote this: “Well, at least he’s looked great on the track in the morning and is acting like a horse sitting on a big race.” You discussed the history of horses that have failed in the Derby after a poor effort in the final prep. I’ve also held to that seemingly powerful trend of the past 60+ years. But then you went on to say, “Six weeks might be just the right amount of time he needs to regroup, and he has shown all the signs of a horse who is doing just that.”

    So…do you think that, whatever the issue was in the La Derby, he really benefitted from the 6 weeks, as opposed to 3, 4, or 5 weeks off? Or was it something we’ll never know that was in play? Also, considering the performances of the four La Derby horses, shouldn’t we more open in considering a horse with a 6-week layoff? I’ve softened my stance about the 6 weeks because I realize that, until Barbaro, 5 weeks was viewed the same way 6 weeks is viewed now.

    • Matthew W says:

      3 from LA Derby finished top 5….

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Boy, I am clever! LOL When I wrote that I believed it and I believe it a lot more now. I really think the extra distance changes everything around. I dont believe a horse can rebound in 3 or even 4 weeks after such a dreadful performance and be ready to run a race like that in the Derby. But the 6 weeks and getting the bottom needed from the 1 3/16 miles combines to allow him to do that. Whatever Mandaloun’s problem was that day his works before the Derby showed he was over it and ready to start fresh. I thought it would be tough for him to win but I felt he could run a big race. The 6 weeks actually rejuvenated him and gave him time to recharge the batteries.

    • pro vet says:

      i told you Mandalouns excuse……above……i posted it 2 times before race….

  12. doug says:

    Wow, what an article. This passion and devotion to horse racing is what critics will never understand.

  13. JoAnn Leichliter says:

    Thanks so much, Steve! I was quite taken with this colt in the paddock and going to the gate, and I liked what I saw in a quick look at his background. When he hit the front early, I thought, “Nobody is going to get by this little horse today.” And I am glad that no one did. This story is the icing on the cake.

  14. Helena says:

    I loved your story Steve. It was a thrilling race and, especially after reading this, I’m so glad the little guy won. We all need a fairy tale story this year.

  15. Carol D Fox says:

    Steve I was so hoping you would write an analysis of the Derby. This little horse embodies the stuff dreams are made of. I always love stories about bargain basement horses that beat the million dollar purchases. I loved your chronicling of the horses with great heart and courage behind this little horse. But you didn’t mention Mariah’s Storm dam of Giant’s Causeway. She goes back to my beloved Swaps and spent time in a sling because of a leg injury just like he did. But she raced again and I believe she won. Her courage inspired the movie Dreamer and surely contributed to the heart of that grand little black horse we saw on Saturday.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Carol, but the theme of that graph was horses who were game in a race and won close finishes. Horses like Mariah’s Storm and Paynter and Lady Eli who bounced back from serious injuries and illnesses are a totally different category.

  16. Amy Hurley says:

    Thanks, Steve, for your excellent recap and the backstory on this year’s Derby. I always look forward to the column following the Triple Crown races, almost as much as the races themselves, because I know I’ll learn a fascinating, little-known story. This one is incredible. Congratulations to Ms. Whitman and best of luck with her future breeding operations. Sounds like she deserves a break.

    I loved this result! Couldn’t be happier, and now I’m eagerly anticipating a rematch with Life is Good later this year. Has Medina Spirit developed enough to now beat his stablemate? What pace tactics would be employed? Mike Smith and Johnny V. eyeing each other and angling for every edge in the race…Can’t wait to see them compete again.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much Amy. In my opinion talking and texting with Baffert all year is that he believes Medina Spirit is not in the same class as Life is Good. Thats just my take knowing Baffert for 25 years.

  17. EddieF says:

    It should be noted that the top price at the 2020 OBS 2yo sale (where Medina Spirit was sold for $35k) was $700,000 for a Distorted Humor colt. Dupuis has raced three times: 8th, then 4th, and most recently, DNF.

  18. 7.5 Furlongs says:

    Thanks for the KD 147 Medina Spirit article. Many interesting points about intangibles in colt’s bloodlines, namely the intestinal fortitude. Story is filled with human interest. It was great reading

  19. Linda Boughner says:

    He was my pick from the beginning! What a wonderful Cinderella story!

  20. CLOWNSKILL says:

    Well, I had a feeling a speed horse would take it. Many said there was an abundance of speed but oftentimes some of that speed gets either taken out at the start or gets dampened by jockeys who don’t want to ruin their chances getting into a duel. They want to save horse and don’t want to be left wanting that last eigth of a mile that is the great unknown for all these colts, so they sit off the leader and wait and wait.

    Unfortunately, I picked the wrong speed horse. I was convinced Midnight Bourbon would get the lead. But a slight hop and a squeeze ruined his chances. He did quite well to be sixth despite being taken completely out of his game.

    We’ll get ’em next time.

  21. Tom Chase says:

    I read your posts, listen to you most Thursdays with Steve Byk and always learn something heart warming. This story you share reminds me of “The Fish.” Similar circumstances in the Baffert barn but much, much more gratifying because of the “back story” involving Ms. Rice and Ms. Whitman, Thank God these brave athletes can’t understand what is said of them, not to mention read the catalogs that have so much of an effect on their destinies. Thank God also for people in “the game” like Ms. Rice and Ms. Whitman who are in it for the “life,” not the “payout.”

  22. 100 lengths says:

    Steve – Very moving article on gutsy Medina Spirit and Christy Whitman. You mentioned three doses of Secretariat in Spirit’s pedigree. But you may not be aware of the 27 appearances of the immortal Man ‘o War in his pedigree, more than any other horse in the derby except for Essential Quality with 32. All those horses you mentioned in his pedigree on both sides carried the fighting spirit and blood of the original Big Red! Thanks for your poignant story! Dave

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Dave. That’s great about Man o’War, but on this website I have to focus on Secretariat. This wasnt about bloodlines, but the three does of Secretariat was something that fit in with the website.

      • 100 lengths says:

        Steve – totally understand. And no question that Secretariat’s doses are important factors in Spirit’s pedigree. The little guy’s refusal to let another horse pass him is also reminiscent of another all-time favorite of yours and mine, the mighty “Doc” whose mile record still stands after 53 years and whom you characterized as being able to beat any other horse you have ever seen in a match race! Dave

        • Steve Haskin says:

          The Doc stands out when it comes to not letting a horse pass him.

        • Deacon says:

          My opinion is that Dr. Fager beats every horse who ever looked through a bridle in a match race.
          He and Spectacular Bid are the 2 greatest horses I ever saw run.

          • Steve Haskin says:

            No arguments from me about the Doc. Bid was the best horse I ever saw at 2, 3, and 4. Doc best horse I ever saw at 4 and Secretariat and Damascus the best horses I ever saw at 3.

            • Deacon says:

              I got no reason to doubt your expertise on this but I will only add that Secretariat never carried more then 126 lbs
              Probably would not have mattered but it is a measuring stick.
              Damascus ran arguably the greatest race in history. That 1967 Travers was a sight to behold. From 14 lengths (give or take) to 20 lengths in front (something like that. No horse beats him that day.
              Secretariat hooked up with Cougar II, Kennedy Road and a few others when they were past their prime.
              Doc beat Fort Marcy, Advocator & Tobin Bronze on those horses best surface. He carried over 130 lbs multiple times.
              Long time ago, it doesn’t matter today.

  23. Deacon says:

    In this crazy world of horse racing and handicapping Steve Haskin continues to be a breath of fresh air. Great back story Steve, very enjoyable to read. I had up until a week ago Medina Spirit in my exotics but there was just too many too chose from. Worked out fine as our governor shut down our state again due to a covid spike.
    Sad to see Rock Your World & Essential Quality basically wipe each other out at the start.
    I will always despise a 19 or 20 horse field. No point to it. Many horses run in the Derby every year with no chance to win.
    Maybe it is a great thrill for the owners & trainers but one day (God forbid) there may be a bad accident. Two Derby’s ago they dodged a bullet on a very wet track. I thought however that Essential Quality ran a great race considering.
    Baffert is amazing but if we stand back & assess this Medina Spirit has been a hard hitting gutsy horse, always in the money.
    Congrats to the connections.
    Thank you for writing this brilliant piece on such short notice. You are the maestro of writing.,,,,,

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I really appreciate that Deacon. Thank you so much. You have to wonder what would have happened if RYW would have broken cleanly and challenged Medina for the lead. What are the odds of the two favorites bumping and costing each other the race?

    • EddieF says:

      Hi, Deacon. I agree that 20 is too many. But that number of horses, or a number close to it, isn’t why we see starts like the ones that RYW and EQ had. Those bad breaks happen in 6-horse fields. The only difference with the Derby is that, obviously, there will likely be more of them. Bad starts happen because horses don’t break straight out of the gate. The main problem with a 20-horse field is the greater chance of a horse being blocked, crowded, or interfered with at some point or points during the running of the race AFTER the start.

      I think most of us knew that Medina was a gutsy and consistent horse. After all, he was 12-1, not a hopeless longshot. He had never been worse than second, he had good early speed and had never been passed in the stretch, his figures were competitive in the Derby field, and he won a graded stakes at Santa Anita. But a Derby winner? I wasn’t smart enough to see that.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Big difference breaking poorly in a 6 horse field. You can recover and quickly get back in position. If you break poorly in a 19 horse field there is simply too much traffic for you to recover and get position. Evryone talks about the two favorites, but a horse like Midnight Bourbon really suffered because he desperately needed to be on the pace and was swallowed up in the field. So Bob got lucky that the two horses who intended to be right on the pace never got in the race after bad breaks. Bob was as surprised as anyone because he never talked up Medina in our texts and he always tells me what he feels about his horses that you dont see in print. He had two horses he felt could win the Derby and the others including Medina were nice horses, although he respected him a lot for his guts. I know for a fact he wasnt expecting this. His only shot to win was to go to the lead and as usual with Bob everything worked out perfectly. Also Medina’s Thoro-Graph and Beyer numbers indicated he had not improved in his last three starts and wasnt quite fast enough to win the Derby. But Bob had him dead-fit and sharp and thats why he’s such a great trainer. His horses show up on the big days

        • EddieF says:

          Steve, I agree with your points as stated. However, the chance of a small field in the Derby is 0. If the maximum number is reduced to 16 (the most common suggestion), what you said about being able to recover and get in position is only a slightly more likely outcome than in a 19- or 20-horse field. Regardless of the size of the field, if you get knocked sideways out of the gate, you’re going to be at a distinct disadvantage. Those are quality horses that broke better and are now way out in front of you.

          Really no disagreement about Medina being able to get to the lead without the challenge of MB (or RYW). Regarding the figures, I was looking at the Brisnet numbers. In the SA Derby, Medina improved 4 and 5 points over his Lewis and San Felipe efforts. In retrospect, the Brisnet numbers foresaw the result better than the others.

          • Steve Haskin says:

            My comment had nothing to do with number of horses in the Derby or any limitation to its size but only why it is more difficult to recover in any large field. Sure any horse can break poorly in any size field but if you do in any large field youre more apt to be screwed.

        • Deacon says:

          Well said Steve, I was going to respond to Eddie with something similar but your explanation was right on point.
          Horses like humans have eyes, they can see 19 other horses loading in a starting gate. There is also that chain reaction that when 2 horses bump it could cause a chain reaction with other horses. A 6 or 7 horse field that is normally not the case.

        • E James says:

          Did his numbers for the Derby show improvement for Medina Spirit? That’s interesting that his numbers before the race didn’t show improvement. Sometimes you have to account for the heart/the intangibles that separate good horses from really good horses.

      • Point Unforgiven says:

        All the more reason to eliminate 20-horse Derby fields: No unworthy winners like Giacomo, Mine That Bird and that truly undeserving Country House! How awful!!!

        • EddieF says:

          Giacomo and Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby, fair and square. Worthy!

          • Matthew W says:

            Mine That Bird UNWORTHY? He won by EIGHT lengths, then ran a STRONG 2nd in the Preakness, and a solid 3rd in the Belmont…..he wouldn’t have qualified into the Derby on points, he had zero.

            • Matthew W says:

              Giacomo UNWORTHY? I think we know John Shirreffs by now, he does not enter unworthy horses, Giacomo ran many solid races.

              • Matthew W says:

                I LIKE 20 horses, makes it a better wager, what happened the other day was some horses had bad starts, and the pace– over a FAST track—was not kind to the closers, on THAT track yhe pace was SOFT!

          • Point Unforgiven says:

            Previous comment was meant as tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Without a 20-horse field Mine that Bird (18) and Country House (16) don’t even get into the race if the field was restricted to only 14 runners. Giacomo (14) ekes in, but that’s just the winners. More than a couple of those who finished in-the-money (Closing Argument comes to mind) were also outside the fourteen some of you are calling for. The other thing that sucks because of 20-horse fields, of course, are the trifectas and superfectas. They’re too hard to hit!

          • Mike Relva says:

            Flew to NM almost 3 yrs ago to visit MTB.

        • Mike Relva says:


          Any horse who prevails is deserving. Bird was a courageous little horse- vanned all way from NM to Kentucky,without advantage of air travel. UNREAL!!!

          • Point Unforgiven says:

            Mike, undoubtedly, that run of The Bird and Borel in the ‘09 Derby has to rank as one of the most exciting in the history of the race. We would never have seen it, however, if back then Churchill had limited the number of starters to only fourteen. Mine That Bird was 18th in the earnings standings. My earlier remark was not meant to be taken seriously. It was intended as a mild poke at those who oppose the 20-horse field, that’s all.

  24. Matthew K W says:

    Breeding his own mares to Protronico…like Cee’s Tizzy—Medina and Tiznow have another thing in common–they keep their heads in front!

  25. Matthew W says:

    Had Mandaloun not been a strong 2nd….those two on outside, Hot Rod and Essential roll by Medina not gonna let him pass but his vision was blocked by Mandaloun, so Bob got lucky there, too.