Kentucky Derby 2021: Medina Spirit wins dominating race

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Crush the mint and pour the bourbon, the Kentucky Derby is back!

After a COVID-enforced detour to September last year, the Derby returned to its traditional date on the first Saturday in May, and Medina Spirit took advantage of perfect conditions to win the 147th Kentucky Derby. The win marked a record seventh Derby victory for trainer Bob Baffert and fourth win for jockey John Velazquez.

Medina Spirit, a yearling once purchased for $1,000, got out to an early lead over the field, with Soup and Sandwich on the outside. Pre-race favorites Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality were well off the lead early, but began closing at the half-mile mark. At the three-quarter mile mark of the 1 ΒΌ-mile race, Essential Quality began making the move from fifth, but as the field came down the stretch, Medina Spirit just held the lead. The winning time: 2:01.02.

Essential Quality came into the race as a prohibitive favorite, going off at 3-1 odds and trained by Brad Cox, who grew up just a few blocks from the track. Rock Your World, off at 9-2, rolled in with three big wins at Santa Anita. Hot Rod Charlie, the horse owned by a consortium including several former Brown football players, also began the race at 5-1.

A little further down the odds sheet, Known Agenda started at 11-1, in large part because of the unfavorable draw on the inside rail. Midnight Bourbon began the race at 12-1, with two-time Derby-winning jockey Mike Smith aboard as jockey. Another notable horse, Highly Motivated, started at 11-1 odds, but faced some significant headwinds. No horse has ever won from the No. 17 slot, and neither Highly Motivated's trainer Chad Brown nor his jockey Javier Castellanos had ever won in the Derby before.

Medina Spirit had been listed at 15-1 coming into the weekend, with odds finishing at 12-1. Mandaloun finished second to place, with Hot Rod Charlie coming in third to show.

Medina Spirit's performance surprised even his trainier. "I knew he was training well, but I'm really, really surprised," Baffert said after the race. "When I saw him on the easy lead, I kept waiting for these horses to come at him, but Johnny had him in a perfect spot. If you have him on the lead, he'll fight."

Run for the first time in two years during its traditional May weekend, the Kentucky Derby marked yet another milepost on the nation's long return to normalcy after the COVID-19 outbreak. Churchill Downs welcomed back fans at up to 60 percent capacity, not quite the traditional bacchanalia of years past, but more than full enough to welcome in an array of well-dressed Derby fans. For instance, there was the bold choice to come dressed as the COVID virus:

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]