Velazquez Guides Medina Spirit To Front-Running Victory In Awesome Again

Bet down to 6-5 favoritism, Zedan Racing Stables Inc.’s Medina Spirit went to the front at the start, controlled the pace and  romped to a five-length victory under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.

Stilleto Boy, ridden by Kent Desormeaux and at 50-1 the longest shot in the field of eight, finished second, followed by Express Train in third, Tripoli (5-2 second choice) fourth, Tizamagician fifth, Idol sixth, Azul Coast seventh and Midcourt, who was eased in the stretch, eighth.

Medina Spirit and Stilleto Boy were the only two 3-year-olds in the race taking on older horses. Medina Spirit paid $4.60 for the win and combined with Stilleto Boy to pay $83.30 on a $1 exacta.

Medina Spirit covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.67 after recording sectional times of :23.39, :47.72, 1:11.76 and 1:37.05.

The Awesome Again is a Win and You’re In Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be contested at Del Mar on Nov. 6. The winner gets an automatic fees-paid berth in the Classic, but Medina Spirit’s participation is uncertain because trainer Bob Baffert’s eligibility for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championship is being reviewed by the organization’s board of directors in the wake of five medication violations over a one-year period, culminating with a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after his first-place finish in the G1 Kentucky Derby on May 1.

Medina Spirit’s post-race sample from the Derby tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid that Baffert claims was administered to the horse via an ointment used to treat a rash after the Protonico colt’s second-place finish in the G1 Santa Anita Derby on April 3. While the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to conduct a hearing on the matter, Churchill Downs officials have notified Baffert that he is suspended from participating at any of their tracks through the end of the 2023 spring meeting. The New York Racing Association also has scheduled a hearing in an attempt to deny Baffert’s participation at its tracks.

Medina Spirit, bred in Florida by Gail Rice, sold for just $1,000 as a yearling at the OBS Winter Mixed Sale, then brought $35,000 at the OBS July 2-year-old sale. The Awesome Again was his fifth career victory from nine starts (though he may be disqualified from his Kentucky Derby win), including the G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in January and the listed Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 29. He ran third behind Rombauer in the G1 Preakness.

The Awesome Again never seemed in doubt after Velazquez gunned Medina Spirit to the lead from the No. 5 post. He outran G1 Pacific Classic winner Tripoli to secure the early advantage, getting the opening quarter in :23.34, then got something of a breather through a half-mile in :47.72. Tizamagician came up to Medina Spirit’s right flank in the run down the backstretch, but the winner spurted away again on the turn after six furlongs in 1:11.76. Tripoli tried to engage on the turn with a three-wide move and Stilleto Boy moved up on the leader while saving ground into the stretch, but Medina Spirit found another gear at the eighth pole and separated from the field.

“I made sure I talked to Bob first, basically I wanted the permission to do what I want,” said Velazquez of the Awesome Again. “Bob said, ‘It’s your job, you do what you need to do.’ I was more aware of the two horses inside. Prat’s horse (Tizamagician) had a lot of speed for a mile and a quarter. I said, ‘I’m going to come out running, I’m going to commit to the lead at the first turn. If he wants to go, he needs to be faster than me.’ He broke well enough for me to get my position where I wanted to go, and once we got to the first turn he threw his ears up, and I knew he was going into a nice rhythm. From then on I felt really comfortable with him.

“I keep saying and I probably sound like a broken record, but this guy he has a lot of heart,” Velazquez said. “That’s all he has. He’s very competitive and when the horses come to him, he gives you everything he can. That’s all you can ask of a horse. He’s not very big, he’s not very beautiful but obviously he’s all heart and you can’t ask for anything else. He’s danced with all the good horses and coming into today and doing it again we got to give it to him.

“It’s the knack of the horse, they don’t give him much credit, he’s running with all the good horses and keeps showing up and running these kinds of races,” Velazquez said. “The way he ran today, that was impressive, maybe they will give him the credit he deserves now.”

The Awesome Again was inaugurated in 1982 as the Goodwood Handicap when the Oak Tree Racing Association conducted a fall meet at Santa Anita. It has been won by such older runners as Lord At War (twice), Ferdinand, Silver Charm, Pleasantly Perfect, Lava Man, Game On Dude (twice), Mucho Macho Man, California Chrome and Accelerate. Three-year-old winners include Shared Belief, Tiznow and now Medina Spirit.

The post Velazquez Guides Medina Spirit To Front-Running Victory In Awesome Again appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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