Medina Spirit dug deep to earn his first stakes win in Saturday’s $100,000 Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) at Santa Anita, turning back a pair of challengers to prevail by a neck. Abel Cedillo guided the up-and-coming colt for Zedan Racing Stables and Bob Baffert.
A Florida-bred son of Protonico, Medina Spirit extended Baffert’s record to nine in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier. The dark bay sophomore was exiting a rallying second to stablemate and early Kentucky Derby favorite Life Is Good in his second start, the Jan. 2 Sham S. (G3).
Hall of Famer and six-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert has captured the last three editions of the 1 1/16-mile Lewis, which awards points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Baffert also trained 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor Silver Charm, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007, for Bob and Beverly Lewis.
“That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm,” Baffert said. “He had every reason to give it up late down 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. He really is not as tired as I thought he would be…A race like this gives them a good foundation, that’s why I decided to run him here.”
Medina Spirit left the starting gate as the even-money favorite, sprinting forward to show the way by a length through opening fractions in :22.89, :46.61, and 1:12.36. He faced serious pressure leaving the far turn, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Hot Rod Charlie the first to challenge.
Recent maiden romper Roman Centurian rallied three-wide to nearly even terms with about an eighth of a mile remaining, and a thrilling duel to the finish line ensued.
Medina Spirit kept finding more along the inside, maintaining a slim advantage to the wire, and stopped the teletimer in 1:46.26 over a tiring/drying out track labeled good.
“He’s a very game horse,” said Cedillo, who has been up for all three career starts. “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, he was by himself.”
“He’s going to get a lot out of this race, but I think you have to take him pretty seriously now,” Baffert added. “Those are two good horses that he beat, so I’m really fortunate. 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.”
Roman Centurian, the 11-1 fifth choice among six runners for Simon Callaghan, edged 5-2 Hot Rod Charlie by a nose for second. It was another 11 lengths to fourth-placer Spielberg. Parnelli and Wipe the Slate rounded out the order.
Bred by Gail Rice, Medina Spirit is the first stakes winner from the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa. He lacks a commercial pedigree, selling for only $35,000 at last summer’s OBS two-year-old sale, but made a smart impression when debuting with a facile front-running maiden special weight win at Los Alamitos in mid-December.