Medina Spirit Prime Candidate for Middle Jewel of Triple Crown
Baffert-Trained Concert Tour Breezes for Possible Preakness Run
Mandaloun, Essential Quality, Caddo River Cox Possibilities
BALTIMORE – Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who became the winningest trainer in Kentucky Derby (G1) history by saddling Medina Spirit for an upset victory Saturday at Churchill Downs, is hoping to make history again in the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 15 at Pimlico Race Course.
Zedan Racing’s Medina Spirit became the seventh Kentucky Derby winner trained by Baffert, who had been tied with legendary Ben Jones for most victories by a trainer in the Run for the Roses.
In this year’s Preakness, Baffert will seek to break a tie with Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888. Baffert has been represented in the Preakness winner’s circle by Triple Crown champions Justify (2018) and American Pharoah (2015), as well as Lookin At Lucky (2010), War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997).
Medina Spirit, who held gamely to register a 12-1 upset Derby victory by a half-length after setting a solid pace, and Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour, the Rebel (G2) winner and third-place Arkansas Derby (G1) finisher at Oaklawn, were very much in the Preakness picture for Baffert Sunday morning.
“So far he came out of the race well,” Baffert, who was scheduled to return to California Sunday, told the assembled media Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. “I’ll watch them closely. I’ll come back next weekend. But right now, I don’t see anything that would discourage me.”
Baffert’s horses will stay at Churchill Downs before traveling to Pimlico. Normally, Baffert’s horses fly from Louisville on the Wednesday before the Preakness. However, he said Tex Sutton Equine Air Transportation, which flies horses across America, is being shut down for a period of time after this week, and thus his horses will van to Baltimore. He said he’s working on travel arrangements.
Medina Spirit, who entered the Kentucky Derby off a runner-up finish behind Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), gave Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez his fourth victory in the first jewel of the Triple Crown, leading all the way and fighting off Mandaloun through the stretch to complete 1 1/4 miles in a very good 2:01.02.
“I thought everything had to go perfect for him,” Baffert said. “We were going to go to the lead and see what happened. But I thought if they challenged him, I didn’t know what was going to happen. He made the lead pretty easily for him and the other speed horse (Rock Your World) didn’t break. That’s the thing about the Derby. You’ve got to get the trip.
“Going down the backside, he was doing it easy. You could see he was enjoying himself. His ears were forward. Turning for home, they came to him and he dug in and fought hard. It was sort of the same race he ran at Santa Anita when he won the Robert Lewis. They came to him and he fended them all off,” he added. “I couldn’t believe it at the sixteenth pole that he was actually going to do it. It was just a thrill to watch him do it and fight on. He came back and acted like he handled it pretty well. He wasn’t as tired as I thought he’d be.”
Baffert has never failed to win the 1 3/16-mile Preakness when he’s come to Pimlico with a horse who won the Derby in May. He finished a close second last October with Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, the eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year, when the Preakness was delayed until a month after the Derby. Authentic lost the Preakness by a neck to the filly Swiss Skydiver.
The Florida-bred Medina Spirit now has three wins and three seconds in six lifetime starts, earning $2,175,200. The son of Protonico was Baffert’s fourth Kentucky Derby winner who had previously finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, following Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Authentic.
“He ran fast all the way around there,” Baffert said of the Derby. “I think Medina just said, ‘Hey boys, I’m a lot better’ (than you think). I don’t think he’s a horse that has to be out there zipping. We’ve figured him out, and that’s what these preps are for. I love it when it works out. These horses make us look smart. But at the end of the day, he’s just a good horse.”
The Derby capped a huge day for Baffert. He won Derby City Distaff with female sprint champion Gamine to earn his record 220th Grade 1 stakes triumph, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Baffert was so much in the zone that he also won a grass stakes – not the surface for which he’s best known. Co-owned by Baffert’s wife, Jill, the 3-year-old Du Jour took the $500,000 American Turf (G2) on the undercard.
Concert Tour, who was withheld from the Derby after losing for the first time in the Arkansas Derby, had a scheduled workout just before 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The son of Street Sense breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60, the fifth-fastest of 17 works at the distance, in preparation for a possible run in the Preakness Stakes.
“Concert Tour, he worked well this morning,” Baffert said. “I’ll sit down and talk to Mr. West. He wants that horse to develop and not to get in a rush. We know he’s a really good horse. We’ll see how he is next week.”
While Concert Tour also races on or near the lead, Baffert said their running styles would not be a factor in determining whether he runs the Rebel winner. Baffert kept Concert Tour out of the Derby after the colt was third in the Arkansas Derby in his fourth career start after three wins.
“We just want to look at them and see how they are training,” he said. “They have to be doing really well [to go to Pimlico].”
Mandaloun, Essential Quality, Caddo River Cox Possibilities
Trainer Brad Cox, who finished second by a half-length with Juddmonte Farms’ Mandaloun and fourth with Godolphin’s favored Essential Quality in his first Kentucky Derby, said the Preakness is a possibility for both colts but that it was premature to commit one way or the other.
“Just unsure. We’ll watch both colts – kind of typical trainer talk,” said Cox Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. “We’ll get them back to the track in three or four days and see how they’re moving. No commitments at all. I mean, I love the Preakness. It’s a great weekend, probably one of the best weekends of the year and we’ll definitely have horses for the undercard.
“We want to also map out the rest of the year,” he added. “It’s very important these horses get Grade 1 opportunities and Grade 1 (wins) under their belt at 3. We’ll try to map out some type of campaign toward making them champion 3-year-old.”
Cox said Short Leaf Stable’s Caddo River, taken out of Derby consideration when he had an elevated temperature a week ago, also is a possibility for the Preakness.
The trainer’s first start in a Triple Crown race came in the 2019 Preakness, when Owendale finished third and Warrior’s Charge ran fourth.
“I think it helped prepare us for (Saturday),” he said. “I’d really like to get back to the Preakness. Honestly, I felt like I ran the horse that was maybe the best horse that day. He had a wide trip, and the rail was golden that day. He ran a tremendous race.”
Cox said that while Medina Spirit “ran huge,” he believes that Essential Quality, fourth as the betting favorite at just under 3-1, might have been the best horse.
“I do. I think he was the best horse. People can say what they want. But he was beaten a length and ran 68 feet farther than the winner, and had a little bit of trouble at the start,” Cox said. “The winner ran huge. When you see a horse lay down those fractions and still keep going, you can’t take anything away from that horse. I thought Essential was kind of compromised at the start and then was kind of in chase mode pretty much the whole way. He just never could get comfortable, take his deep breath to where he could gather himself up and come with a strong finish. But he did stay on extremely well.”
Mandaloun came into his narrow Derby defeat off of a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
“We know he’s a good horse; he showed that last fall,” Cox said. “We’ve always thought he was a good colt and we were just glad he got it back on the right track.”
In addition to Medina Spirit, Concert Tour, Mandaloun, Essential Quality and Caddo River, Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator Trish Bowman’s list of Preakness prospects includes Midnight Bourbon, who closed to finish sixth after bumping at the start of the Kentucky Derby; Crowded Trade, who finished third in the Wood Memorial (G2); Rombauer, who finished third in the Blue Grass (G2) after winning the Preakness ‘Win and In’ El Camino Real Derby; Japan-based France Go de Ina, who finished sixth in the UAE Derby (G2); Lexington (G3) winner King Fury, who was knocked out of the Derby with a fever; and Unbridled Honor, who finished second in the Lexington.
Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Sunday morning that Whisper Hill Farm’s Unbridled Honor is being considered for the Preakness.
“I’ll talk to the connections,” Pletcher said. “He was second in the Lexington last time. He ran pretty well. He was a good closing fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. He’s a horse who has always trained pretty well, still trying to figure things out in race situations.”
Pletcher said he thought the Preakness would be “pretty wide-open event,” although Medina Spirit and his trainer should not be taken lightly.
“[Medina Spirit]’s been running consistently well,” he said. “I think in a couple of his races at Santa Anita, he was in the race with [stablemate] Life Is Good and it looked like early on in the race, he was wanting to go on and they didn’t want to get in a speed duel with Life Is Good, so they took him back. I think [Saturday] he got to run the way he likes to run, which is to let him run freely.”
Asked about Baffert breaking out of a tie with the legendary Ben Jones for the all-time Derby lead, Pletcher said, “Obviously the guy knows what he’s doing. He has a special knack for winning big races, this race and has a terrific program. Usually when he ships his horses in, they’re ready to roll.”
Yuji Mori’s France Go de Ina, a son of Will Take Charge, is scheduled to be entered in the Preakness. Currently in quarantine in Japan, he is scheduled to fly to the U.S. May 5. The winner of two of three starts in Japan is scheduled to be in quarantine in Los Angeles for two days before flying to Baltimore May 7.