LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP/ Reuters) — The Latest on the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby (all times local):
Medina Spirit stormed to victory in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday to deliver trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh win in the Run for the Roses.
Under jockey John Velazquez, Medina Spirit jumped to an early lead and fended off challenges down the stretch to cross the line first in front of 51,838 fans in the largest U.S. sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The win was Hall of Fame jockey Velazquez’s fourth in the Triple Crown race, which returned to its usual first Saturday in May spot on the sport’s calendar after being pushed to September last year due to the pandemic.
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has stepped in to give the “Riders Up” command just before the Kentucky Derby as a last-minute substitute for originally scheduled local rapper Jack Harlow.
No reason was immediately given for the quick change that put the four-time Derby winner in charge of the traditional call for jockeys to their mounts for the 147th running. But Lukas was ready and delivered a clear, thorough command to the 19 riders gathered in the paddock for the premier race.
Thousands of spectators are gathered in the infield at Churchill Downs, many not wearing face masks required amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds stood in lines that were not spaced out to use ATMs or buy food. Unlike some Derby tickets this year that are all-inclusive, infield tickets don’t include drinks or food, so fans have to use cash to make purchases.
Sydney Lowe of Columbus, Ohio, said she and her friends were fine with not wearing masks because they were outside and had been vaccinated.
“We’re outside, I feel like it’s not that big a deal,” Lowe said.
“I wish there were more ATMs and that it wasn’t only cash, that’s one thing,” added her friend, Halle Vozar.
A recording played over a loudspeaker at the entrance says guests are required to wear masks over their mouths and noses. Ticket takers reminded people coming in the front gate: “Please have your mask on! Masks on! Masks on!”
A sign posted indoors by the wagering windows reminding spectators to wear masks largely went ignored. Others had masks pulled down covering their chins.
A plane circling above Churchill Downs is flying a banner reading “Protect Black Women. Divest from Police.”
Several racial justice groups commissioned the banner to remind spectators that the Derby is being held in the hometown of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician shot and killed by police in March 2020 in a botched raid.
The Derby comes less than two weeks after former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd, a case that triggered a furious reckoning over racism and policing in the U.S. The day that Chauvin was convicted, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio.
Chanelle Helm, with Black Lives Matter Louisville, said the banner flying above the Derby is designed to highlight police brutality against Black women. Helm noted that Black woman often staff the Derby as servers and ticket-takers, then go home to their neighborhoods to face overzealous policing and economic inequality.
Bob Baffert saddled Gamine to a 1 1/2-length victory in the $500,000 Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs, giving the trainer his record 220th Grade 1 stakes win.
Baffert broke a tie with longtime friend and fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who had owned the old mark of 219 Grade 1 wins in North America.
“I didn’t know I was that close to the record until a month ago,” Baffert said. “To do it here on this big day is very special.”
Baffert and Lukas have known each other for over 40 years, going back to when both men trained quarter horses before switching to thoroughbreds.
In normal years, Derby-goers cram shoulder-to-shoulder into Churchill Downs. But with limited capacity this year, fans are breezing around easily, with no long lines weaving from the wagering windows.
“In days past, that’s all you did all day: wait in line for everything. Go watch the race, then get in line, get in line for a drink, get in line for the bathroom,” said Tina Cox, a local who’s been to the Derby dozens of times.
Many spectators were not wearing masks despite them being required, but Cox said she didn’t feel uncomfortable in the track’s outdoor spaces.
“It puts a little smiley face on the city for a minute, instead of all the doom and gloom, you come to this beautiful place and feel kind of normal again,” Cox said. “People are excited for something, looking forward to something. I always enjoy Derby, but this year it seems like everybody appreciates everything so much more.”
A Houston furniture dealer who owns horses is placing a big-money bet on the Kentucky Derby.
Jim McIngvale, nicknamed “Mattress Mack,” is wagering at least $2 million on Saturday’s race, which will be the largest in Derby history. He doesn’t have a horse of his own in the race, so he plans to bet on 2-1 morning-line favorite Essential Quality.
McIngvale will place the bet in person at Churchill Downs rather than through a legal bookmaker. The Louisville track receives about 10% of all on-track wagering, so a $2 million bet on Essential Quality will reap about $200,000 for purses. The amount would be far less if the money were wagered through simulcasting, online or at a casino.
“I wanted to go where the track’s dollars were maximized and the horse owners’ dollars were maximized to support the ecosystem of the entire game,” he said.
The Derby is a pari-mutuel race in which gamblers bet against each other, so McIngvale’s whopper of a wager will affect the betting pool.
McIngvale is well known for tying major sports events into promotions at his Gallery Furniture stores, where he sheltered storm victims in the wake of Houston’s flooding in 2019.
He also collaborated with Churchill Downs to bring about 300 foster parents, alumni and social service workers to the Derby.
Kentucky Derby Day is underway with near-perfect weather and masked spectators milling around Churchill Downs again after not being allowed for last fall’s delayed race because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unbeaten Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 147th Run for the Roses featuring 19 horses. Post time is set for 6:57 p.m. Eastern for the 12th of 14 races, with more than 45,000 fans expected beneath the Twin Spires, or 100,000 less than usual. That’s still a big improvement from last year’s Derby, run on Labor Day weekend in virtual silence and out of sequence as the Triple Crown’s second jewel instead of its first. It was moved from the first Saturday in May for the first time in 75 years.
Essential Quality is last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Louisville-born Brad Cox, who would make Derby history as the first native son to win. The other top contenders are Rock Your World (5-1), Known Agenda (6-1) and Hot Rod Charlie (8-1).