John R. Velazquez Rides Medina Spirit to Kentucky Derby Win

John R. Velazquez has the winning spirit

The 49-year-old Puerto Rican jockey rode Medina Spirit at Saturday’s 147th Kentucky Derby, which saw fans return to Churchill Downs, after a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

John R. Velazquez

The three-year-old race horse, trained by two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, was ridden to victory by Velazquez, besting two-year-old Essential Quality, who was the favorite to win.

Medina Spirit’s odds of winning coming into the race were 12-1.

Mandaloun—ridden by jockey Florent Geroux—came in second place. And third place went to Hot Rod Charlie, the dark bay colt ridden by Flavien Prat.

Medina Spirit’s triumph brought Baffert into the lead, in terms of Derby wins by a trainer, with seven.

Velazquez was coming off another major win on Friday at the Kentucky Oaks competition, atop undefeated American Thoroughbred, Malathaat.

While the Kentucky Derby typically attracts a crowd of more than 150,000 people, today’s event was held at limited capacity, with just 51,838 spectators present. At the sporting events, socially-distanced spectators were required to wear masks when they weren’t eating or drinking, though some of those in attendance reportedly refused to comply.

After a year that saw the Derby held in the absence of fans, it returned to its regular spot on the calendar this year, along with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, the two other races one needs to win, in order to claim the coveted Triple Crown.

Preakness Stakes is set for May 15, with Belmont Stakes following on June 5.

Velasquez was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.

Espinoza Rides American Pharoah to Triple Crown Greatness

Victor Espinoza has jockeyed his way into the history books…

American Pharoah, with the 43-year-old Mexican jockey at the reins, won the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Victor Espinoza
Affirmed had been the last horse to win the Triple Crown, taking the most coveted prize in horse racing in 1978.

American Pharoah lived up to expectations on Saturday, pulling away from its challengers in the last stretch of the 147th Belmont Stakes and becoming just the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown.

“It’s very emotional,” American Pharoah’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said. “What a feeling. It’s probably going to take a few days to sink in.”

The horse, which is owned by Zayat Stables, won the Kentucky Derby on May 2 and the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, taking the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Baffert and Espinoza had come up short in five previous bids between them to win the Triple Crown.

“He walked into the gate amazing,” Espinoza said. “He was ready today. As soon as I sat in the saddle, there was so much power and so much energy this horse had. He trained perfect, just unbelievable coming into the race.”

American Pharoah ended the longest streak without a Triple Crown winner in the history of American horse racing, with 13 horses losing in the Belmont Stakes after winning the first two races in the series.

The previous longest stretch without a Triple Crown winner was 25 years, spanning the time from Citation’s victory in 1948 to Secretariat’s win in 1973.

“It’s just an amazing thing. It’s just unbelievable how things work out. It’s just an amazing horse like American Pharoah. I was coming to this race with so much confidence the last two times. It’s just unbelievable,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza won the first two legs of the Triple Crown with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome last year, but he came up short each time at Belmont.