Proving just as tough to pass as he was in the Kentucky Derby (G1), 9-10 favorite Medina Spirit repelled Rock Your World to post a front-running victory in Sunday’s $100,500 Shared Belief S. at Del Mar.
The Bob Baffert trainee, who is in jeopardy of losing his Derby crown after testing positive for betamethasone, had not raced since his third in the May 15 Preakness (G1). But Medina Spirit showed all of his characteristic pluck here.
With Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez hustling him out of the gate, Medina Spirit beat Rock Your World to the lead, and he never relinquished it despite unrelenting pressure. There would be no repeat of the Santa Anita Derby (G1), when Rock Your World sped to the front, and Medina Spirit had to settle for second.
The 8-5 second choice on Sunday, Rock Your World attended the favorite through fractions of :22.52 and :46.92. Then he ratcheted up his challenge passing six furlongs in 1:11.81. Although Medina Spirit was coming under a ride, he responded as generously as ever, and edged clear into the stretch.
Rock Your World drifted out a bit leaving the turn. The stalking Team Merchants, who loomed outside him turning for home, was disorganized upon straightening and collided with the wide-rallying Stilleto Boy. Both regrouped from the barging, as Stilleto Boy resumed his forward momentum, and Team Merchants altered course to the inside of Rock Your World.
Meanwhile, Rock Your World was galvanized to take another run at Medina Spirit. But try though he might, he could get no closer than 1 1/4 lengths.
The inquiry sign flashed as the stewards reviewed the stretch melee. First announced as involving third Stilleto Boy and fifth Team Merchants, the inquiry added Rock Your World to the equation. That portended a closer look at whether his drift contributed to Team Merchants’ problems.
Yet after the stewards ruled that the result would stand, by majority decision, their explanation reverted to a consideration strictly of Team Merchants and Stilleto Boy. The reasoning was that Team Merchants was culpable of interference, but since Stilleto Boy finished ahead of him, no remedy was required.
Rock Your World was easily second best by 2 1/4 lengths. Jockey Umberto Rispoli employed right-handed encouragement, which might have helped his cause. Had it been left-handed urging, his drift could have been more problematic.
Stilleto Boy was a length up on The Great One, who collared Team Merchants for fourth. The 27.90-1 longshot Willy the Cobbler trailed throughout.
By negotiating the mile in 1:37.29, Medina Spirit rebounded from his weary-looking Preakness, and likely put himself on course for the Sept. 25 Pennsylvania Derby (G1).
“It went the way we wanted it,” Velazquez told Del Mar publicity. “Once I made the lead into the first turn, I felt better. He was moving well.
“When he got on the backside, his ears went up and he was really cruising. When a horse would come to him, he’d pick it up on his own. When we got to the quarter pole, I said ‘Let’s go; time to pick it up.’ And he was right into it. He finished strong and the gallop out was strong, too. He can build off this race.”
Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit improved his scorecard to 8-4-3-1, $2,345,200. A closing second to then-stablemate Life Is Good in the Jan. 2 Sham (G3), the dark bay was all heart to prevail in his absence in the Robert B. Lewis (G3). Medina Spirit was again no match for Life Is Good in the San Felipe (G2).
Following his runner-up effort to Rock Your World in the aforementioned Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit was overlooked at 12.10-1 in the Kentucky Derby. But he got brave on the front end at Churchill Downs and withstood all comers, only to have controversy in the aftermath of his postrace test.
Baffert commented on the overall context of Sunday’s victory:
“It’s a relief – a Shared Belief relief. It’s good that the fans were here for the showdown.
“I did not have any intention of running him in this race until a couple weeks ago. I started thinking about it, figuring it couldn’t come up that tough. Then (son) Bode said, ‘You know Rock Your World’s running there?’
“For what this horse has gone through, he’s such a game horse, and I wanted to run him here and see if he likes Del Mar (host of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup). I’ve never had a Derby winner come back and win here, so that’s a first.
“He looks good, and John (Velazquez) said he feels better than ever. There’s still some good racing for him out there.
“We’re waiting for the process (regarding the Kentucky Derby result) to happen.”
Medina Spirit was bred by Gail Rice in Florida and sold for a mere $1,000 as a newly-turned yearling at OBS January. From the first crop of Protonico and out of the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa, he lacked commercial appeal. Amr Zedan purchased him for $35,000 as an OBS Summer juvenile, and the rest is history.