The drama begins with the return of the traditional 2021 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, at the 1-1/4 mile distance. The highly favored super-star, Essential Quality, clearly had the superior pre-race credentials. He was trained by a relative newcomer and next generation trainer born and raised near the backside of Churchill Downs, Brad Cox. Cox prepared himself for this to be his clear opportunity to win his first one of the Triple Crown races. Essential Quality handily won his first 5 races, and Cox was already successful in winning other Grade 1 races, including Breeders’ Cup races.

Medina Spirit 2021 Kentucky Derby 1st Place Finish

He was now working for the Internationally powerful Godolphin Stable, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai. Essential Quality was being ridden by Luis Saez, a top-level jockey, who had similarly never won a Triple Crown race, however, he accumulated well over 100 graded stakes triumphs along the way. In 2020, Saez picked up his first Breeders’ Cup victory in the previous year by guiding then 2-year-old Essential Quality to a stretch-running score in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). In 2019, Saez rode Maximum Security to a first-place finish in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, only to be taken down to 17th place by the stewards due to an interference infraction.

Cox also trained 2021 Kentucky Derby entry Mandaloun, owned by Juddmonte Farms and ridden by jockey Florent Geroux. The race appeared to be cleanly run with the winner being Hall of Fame Bob Baffert trained Medina Spirit, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. In recent years, Velazquez teamed up with Baffert and they became a power-house duo to win several major races.

The order of finish for the highly contested 2021 Kentucky Derby was: 1) Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit; 2) Brad Cox’s Mandaloun; 3) Doug O’Neill’s Hot Rod Charlie; and 4) Brad Cox’s Essential Quality. There were reason’s why Essential Quality might not have been able to perform better in that race, and all were waiting for the next match-up for potential vindication of honors.

The drama begins with the return of the traditional 2021 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, at the 1-1/4 mile distance. The highly favored super-star, Essential Quality, clearly had the superior pre-race credentials. He was trained by a relative newcomer and next generation trainer born and raised near the backside of Churchill Downs, Brad Cox. Cox prepared himself for this to be his clear opportunity to win his first one of the Triple Crown races. Essential Quality handily won his first 5 races, and Cox was already successful in winning other Grade 1 races, including Breeders’ Cup races. He was now working for the Internationally powerful Godolphin Stable, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai.

Essential Quality was being ridden by Luis Saez, a top-level jockey, who had similarly never won a Triple Crown race, however, he accumulated well over 100 graded stakes triumphs along the way. In 2020, Saez picked up his first Breeders’ Cup victory in the previous year by guiding then 2-year-old Essential Quality to a stretch-running score in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). In 2019, Saez rode Maximum Security to a first-place finish in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, only to be taken down to 17th place by the stewards due to an interference infraction.

Several days later the bomb shell news announced by Baffert himself was that Medina Spirit would be disqualified from being the official Derby winner due to a positive drug test for an anti-inflammatory medication Betamethasone. This medication is typically used as an injectable for sore joints, and Medina Spirit’s blood levels were twice acceptable values. This was not Baffert’s first time having a horse test positive in a big race. He had several highly regarded winners previously test positive for a myriad of illegal substances in recent years.

Baffert already won more Triple Crown and other Grade 1 Stakes races than any other trainer in history and he is unquestionably today’s most visibly significant individual in thoroughbred racing. Because of his celebrity, many former infractions have either gone unannounced, uninvestigated, or with only minor penalties, all begging to question whether there is fairness in the scrutiny used to unilaterally oversee and penalize medication infractions. Baffert already made public announcements that he felt personally responsible to represent the thoroughbred racing industry, and for that reason he hired a veterinarian to oversee all potential medication issues in his barn so that, “this sort of problem would never happen again”.

Kentucky announced that they were sending a second split-blood sample to an independent laboratory for unbiased testing. Until further notice, Baffert was banned from racing any horses in Kentucky and Medina Spirit was going to have the title striped from his first-place finish, pending the split-sample results. Tentatively, Mandaloun, the Brad Cox trained 2nd place finisher, would potentially be recognized as the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner. That would then make Doug O’Neill’s Hot Rod Charlie 2nd place, and Cox’s Essential Quality 3rd place finishers.

But what next regarding Baffert’s intended entry into the 2nd Triple Crown Race, the Preakness Stakes, to be run at Pimlico Racetrack in Maryland, two weeks later; and then potentially the Belmont Stakes?

Next up…The Preakness Stakes

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