Medina Spirit gives Bob Baffert another win in Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita

Medina Spirit, with Abel Cedillo aboard, wins the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30, 2021, at Santa Anita.
Medina Spirit, with Abel Cedillo aboard, wins the Grade 3, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Southern California’s grip on the Kentucky Derby looks as if it has a good chance to continue based on Saturday’s running of an early prep race at Santa Anita.

You could literally throw a quarter of a horse blanket over the three top finishers in the Grade 3, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, a race in which all three horses made major moves forward in the hopes of making it to the first Saturday in May.

Medina Spirit, the favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, had every reason to get run down in the deep stretch of the 1 1/16-mile race, but he wouldn’t relinquish the lead, finishing a neck ahead of Roman Centurian, who was a nose in front of Hot Rod Charlie. It was the ninth time Baffert has won this race.


There are probably two more races before the Kentucky Derby and a lot can happen. Another Baffert trainee, Life Is Good, is the future book favorite to win the Derby. He won’t race again until early March. Horses who made Southern California home have won six of the last nine Kentucky Derbies.

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Jan. 29, 2021

Medina Spirit jumped to the lead Saturday and on the backstretch was in a speed duel with Wipe The Slate. Entering the far turn, Hot Rod Charlie started to make his move followed by Roman Centurian. Entering the stretch, it appeared as if Medina Spirit might have had enough, but he kept digging in along the rail with Roman Centurian on the outside and Hot Rod Charlie in the middle.

In the end, Medina Spirit would not be beat. He paid $4.00, $2.80 and $2.20. The remainder of the field, in order, was Roman Centurian, Hot Rod Charlie, Spielberg, Parnelli and Wipe The Slate. Rombauer and Waspirant were scratches. The rain-soaked track didn’t have enough time to completely dry out and was listed as good.

“That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm,” Baffert said of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner he trained for Robert and Beverly Lewis in 1997. “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.”

Medina Spirit, a Florida-bred purchase for only $35,000, was running only his third race. He won his opener and finished second in the Sham Stakes to Life Is Good in his second start. Abel Cedillo has ridden him in all three races.

“He’s a very game horse,” Cedillo said. “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.”


Baffert was also surprised that the intense stretch run didn’t take much out of the colt.

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Jan. 30, 2021

“He really is not as tired as I thought he would be,” Baffert said. “A race like this gives them a good foundation. That’s why I decided to run him here. I’d rather run him in a race and keep breezing him, getting him ready. He’s going to get a lot out of this race, but I think you have to take him pretty seriously now. Those are two good horses that he beat, so I’m really fortunate.”

It’s unclear what the next race will be for Medina Spirit. Baffert generally doesn’t like to run his best horses against each other, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Life Is Good and Medina Spirit in different locations. In the past, he’s kept one at home to run in the San Felipe and another to a prep at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

“We just have to keep him healthy,” Baffert said.

In the other stakes race Saturday, Express Train won the Grade 2 $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes for older horses going 1 1/8 miles. The winning margin was 3¼ lengths for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Juan Hernandez. He paid $7.20 to win.