The only person who might break Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby win record is Bob Baffert
Let’s look at one of the most amazing Kentucky Derby takeaways any of us will ever see. Bob Baffert won his seventh Kentucky Derby in gate to wire fashion with what was arguably his third contender down from the top of his list. The one thousand dollar yearling was not the type of horse who usually winds up on Bob Baffert’s shed-row, but Medina Spirit did. He may not have had the price tag some Derby winners have, but he did have something that is not for sale at any price. Heart!
What exactly does that mean not only to the Sport of Kings, but to sports in general?
Much of sports is about records, streaks, wins, losses, and championships. This is the benchmark athletes both human and equine are measured by. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said:
“winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Ben Jones won six Kentucky Derbies from 1938-1952. That was a record many thought would never be equaled let alone broken. Bob tied the record with Authentic in 2020. Authentic was ranked by most behind both Charlatan and Nadal on the Kentucky Derby trail. Similarly Medina Spirit was ranked behind Life Is Good and Concert Tour. On the first Saturday in May it didn’t matter. You have to think if Triple Tap had come along faster he may have even been ranked higher. We’ll never know.
Back in April of 2016 I wrote an article about the greatest streaks in horse racing. I tried to focus on things I thought would never be equaled in the game. These are the streaks I chose and you can read the article HERE.
* Angel Cordero Jr., 11 Straight Saratoga Riding Titles
* Kelso, Horse of the Year 5 Consecutive Years
* Woody Stephens, 5 Consecutive Belmont Stakes
* D. Wayne Lukas, 6 Consecutive Triple Crown Race Wins
* Ruffian, 10 Consecutive Starts, Never Headed at any call, and the Track or Stakes Record Broken in Every One
Bob Baffert’s seven Kentucky Derby wins were not consecutive. That might be too much to expect even from this barn. As far as a racing accomplishment; however, it takes a back seat to none. It deserves to stand alone as one of the most remarkable achievements in all of sports.
Some of the most difficult horse races to win in the world are:
The Melbourne Cup
The Kentucky Derby
The Grand National
The Prix de l’ Arc de Triomphe
The Dubai World Cup
The Breeders’ Cup Classic
It can easily be argued the Derby is as tough or even tougher to win than any of them. I don’t think the most talented CPA we could find would be able to pinpoint how much Godolphin has spent trying every way possible to win the Kentucky Derby. Aidan O’ Brien has tried and come up short. To get there in and of itself is an accomplishment. Sure, people have gotten lucky with one horse or another and got there and even won it, but seven times?
Here is something I found interesting about this remarkable win and record that I have not heard a single soul mention. People are fast to throw stones at Bob Baffert. He himself has stated he wants to and needs to be more vigilant about his horses and prevent any accidental contamination or overages of legal medications due to different testing procedures and protocols at different racetracks and from state to state. He was on record as supporting the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act.
This year’s Kentucky Derby was run under the strictest protocols I personally have ever seen. Every horse and every person around any horse was watched and monitored. Any drug administered was recorded and noted. Feed and supplements were subject to inspection and even confiscation. The Jefferson County Sheriff had the Oaks and Derby horses under watch around the clock. Things were so strict that the riders in the Oaks and Derby were subject to being checked with a wand for any buzzers, batteries or whatever you want to call them. Churchill Downs went as far as they could go to make sure the playing field was fair and level and nothing nefarious could possibly go on involving any horse. Bob Baffert won the race.
This happens when a trainer out trains, out thinks, out works, and out plays the competition and has a horse that is ready and prepared for the task. Bob has proven regardless of the circumstances, and even when things go against him nobody is better on the first Saturday in May. Bob and John Velazquez were determined to turn the tables on Rock Your World, and to do that they knew the best chance was going to the lead. I didn’t bet Medina Spirit and I knew I was in trouble after a quarter of a mile. We all know you have to have the horse. The connections of eighteen other horses all thought they had the horse. If the Kentucky Derby was a chess game this year Bob got away with the four move checkmate.
After all the heat Bob Baffert took this past year, and all the questions he answered from all the multiple sources, I think the circumstances under which he won his record seventh Kentucky Derby are worth mentioning.
Bob once told me he found out what it was like to win the Kentucky Derby by losing it. It was back in 1996 that his Cavonnier lost one of the closest Derby finishes ever to the Wayne Lukas trained Grindstone. The photo doesn’t do the live view justice. It looked a lot closer and Bob thought he won thus tasting victory before it was stolen by a mirror image and the ride of a lifetime by Jerry Bailey. Dues have been paid.
Photos: Coady Photography
Win Photo: Churchill Downs