Gritty stretch battle earns Medina Spirit 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points
ARCADIA, Calif.—In a gutty gate to wire performance, Medina Spirit fought off all challengers to take Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck and thus stamped himself a top tier Derby hopeful for Bob Baffert. Owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. and ridden by Abel Cedillo, Medina Spirit got a mile and one sixteenth in 1:46.26 over a Santa Anita main track listed as “good” due to recent rains that deposited 2.4 inches of rain through noon on Friday.
Sent to the lead while head and head with Parnelli and Wipe the Slate into the Club House turn, Medina Spirit was pressed up the backside by Wipe the Slate, who was three quarters of length back three furlongs out. With a length advantage at the top of the stretch, Medina Spirit drifted out a bit and was immediately engaged by Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian in a thrilling three-horse battle to the wire.
“He’s a very game horse,” said Cedillo, who collected his third win on the day and who has now ridden the Florida-bred colt by Protonico in all three of his races. “At the quarter pole, I didn’t know, but he looked around and when he saw those horses, he kept going. He didn’t get tired at all. On the gallop out (after the wire), he was by himself.”
A close second to highly regarded stablemate Life is Good going one mile in the Grade III Sham Stakes here Jan. 2, Medina Spirit was heavily backed as the even money favorite in a field of six sophomores and paid $4.00, $2.80 and $2.20.
“That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm (1997 Kentucky Derby winner),” said Baffert, who rung up his record ninth Lewis win today. “He had every reason to give it up late in the stretch (when) those horses came to him. I thought he was beat. I thought they were going to get by and he wouldn’t let them by, he fought on.
“…We just have to keep him healthy. It’s a really tiring track, he went real fast early, but he showed that he had the qualities there. It’s nice to win the Robert B. Lewis because it means so much to me. I would have liked my other horse (fourth place finisher Spielberg) to run better than he did, but those things happen.”
A first-out maiden winner going 5 ½ furlongs at Los Alamitos Dec. 11, Medina Spirit, who is out of the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Change, was sold for just $35,000 at public auction last July. With today’s winnings of $60,000, he increased his earnings to $95,200 from three starts.
Trained by Simon Callaghan, Roman Centurian, an impressive 1 1/16 mile maiden winner on Jan. 3, was last early and rallied resolutely while caught five wide turning for home to best Hot Rod Charlie by a nose for second money. Off at 11-1 with Juan Hernandez, Roman Centurian paid $7.60 and $3.80.
A close second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 6, Doug O’Neill’s Hot Rod Charlie ran huge off the bench, finishing 11 lengths clear of Spielberg. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Hot Rod Charlie was the second choice at 5-2 and paid $2.60 to show.
Fractions on the race, all set by the winner, were 22.89, 46.61, 1:12.36 and 1:39.34.
Named in honor of the late Thoroughbred owner and philanthropist Robert B. Lewis, who along with his wife Beverly, owned two Kentucky Derby winners, Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999, the Lewis winner receives 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with four to second, two to third and one point to the fourth place finisher.
Photo of the finish of the Robert B. Lewis, Medina Spirit on the rail. (Past The Wire)