‘All Systems Good’ for Kentucky Derby Hero Medina Spirit

May 3, 2021

BALTIMORE, Md.—Last September, Jimmy Barnes watched on his phone in an ambulance as his boss Bob Baffert captured a record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby (G1) with Authentic in the COVID-delayed Classic. Saturday, Baffert’s long-time assistant trainer was back watching the race in person at Churchill Downs as Medina Spirit provided Baffert a record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby victory.

Barnes had sustained a fractured wrist when the barn’s other 2020 Derby entrant, Thousand Words, reared and flipped as the assistant trainer attempted to saddle him in the paddock’s walking ring. Knocked off balance, Barnes fell and landed awkwardly on his right wrist. Barnes was back at Baffert’s Churchill Downs barn the next morning after the break was set at Louisville’s Norton Audubon Hospital, but he ultimately had surgery in California with screws inserted to stabilize the injury.

“Especially if you win, you want to be here,” Barnes reflected Monday at Churchill Downs. “But I’d been here enough and we’d won it enough that I knew what was ahead of me. They didn’t know how hard it was going to be to get out of here. They said we could either go now (to the hospital) or it could be like 8 o’clock when you get out of here. I knew I probably had four or five hours at least ahead of me, setting it and doing all that. So I said, ‘Let’s go.’ And I watched it on my phone.”

The mishaps weren’t over, however, as Authentic later knocked down Baffert in the Derby winner’s circle on the turf course.

“It was nice to have Jimmy there and nobody fell down in the winner’s circle,” Baffert said Sunday of Medina Spirit’s victory in the 147th Kentucky Derby. “It was very enjoyable, and it was good to do it in front of fans.”

Now back on his pony, Barnes again is overseeing Baffert’s Pimlico-bound contingent, which, in addition to the Derby winner, could include Rebel Stakes winner Concert Tour for the May 15 Preakness (G1) as well as horses for other stakes next week. Baffert will be out to break a tie with fellow Hall of Famer Robert Wyndham Walden, who had seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888. Baffert’s most recent of seven Preakness champions include Triple Crown winners Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015. Each of his Preakness winners went on to be voted 3-year-old champion.

Medina Spirit, who has never been worse than second in six career starts, paid $26.20 to win as the sixth betting choice of 19 while marking the seventh California-based horse to win the Derby in the last 10 years.

“Was I surprised?” Barnes said. “He was running against good horses in California. California horses are usually right there in the Kentucky Derby. He’d run second to (now-injured stablemate) Life Is Good. He was second to John Sadler’s horse (Rock Your World) in the Santa Anita Derby. So he’d run respectable races, maybe not the way we needed him to run. He wants to be up front, out in the clear and we had other horses who were faster than him. It just didn’t work out for him. He ended up having to be behind and having to close. But going a mile and a quarter, you just never know: Are we going to go on the lead the whole way?

“I thought there was enough speed that someone would have gone with us.”

Barnes began working for Baffert in November of 1998. His first Derby victory with for Baffert was the trainer’s third, front-running War Emblem in 2002. However, Barnes first came to Churchill Downs for Derby weekend in 1999, with Silverbulletday winning the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Baffert attempting to win a third straight Derby with the filly Excellent Meeting and the colt General Challenge. Excellent Meeting rallied from 18th to take fifth (beaten a total of 2 1/4 lengths) and Santa Anita Derby winner General Challenge was knocked sideways shortly after the start and struggled home 11th. 

“I saw what it took,” Barnes said. “You need a pretty good horse and you want to be out in front. You need to be up close in the clear to have your best chance.”

Medina Spirit had a second walk day Monday since keeping runner-up Mandaloun at bay for a half-length victory Saturday, with third-place Hot Rod Charlie and fourth-place favorite Essential Quality both beaten about a length for everything.

“He’ll probably walk three days – that’s our typical deal,” Barnes said. “Maybe Wednesday he’ll jog. We’ll see how the weather is. It’s hard to give them too many days off when we’re coming right around. But all systems look good right now. Everything is good.”

Baffert also has Concert Tour, who bypassed the Derby after finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (G1), under Preakness consideration. Concert Tour worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60 Sunday and is scheduled to work again this weekend. Gary and Mary West’s son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense walked Monday and will jog Tuesday, Barnes said.

Pimlico Press Release 

Photo: Medina Spirit wins the 147th Kentucky Derby. (Kentucky Derby/Coady Photo)

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