Medina Spirit and jockey Abel Cedillo win the Grade III, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Saturday, January 30, 2021 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.© BENOIT PHOTO

by Danny Brewer

So here’s a question for you…does Bob Baffert know how to dance?…I think that is open for debate depending on your perspective. If you are talking about the disco lights and techno funk the jury is still out. If you mean tripping the light fantastic towards the Kentucky Derby he’s your Fred Astaire.

One of the greatest things about Thoroughbred racing is the road to the Kentucky Derby and the excitement it brings. The early days of the chase brings barns across the country an all -new excitement as many believe they have the next winner of the world’s most famous race. The early prep races are now in full swing and some will be exposed as a wanna-be rug cutter while others begin to Dab their way to the Derby.

No stranger to this music, Bob Baffert has been better at dancing with the stars than any conditioner in the game. Sending out his first winner in 1997 (Silver Charm), Baffert has since put on his boogie shoes five other times (1998, 2002, 2015, 2018, 20200 and just missed with three other runners (1996, 2009, 2012).

So here we are in 2021 and the music is beginning to bump in the background. Fresh three year-olds are doing the running man as the scramble for Derby qualifying points is on. Normally blessed with talent, Big Race Bob is currently cultivating with hopes he can find some Hammer time (that’s M.C. for those old enough to remember that dancing machine). The most recent race on the Derby dash at Santa Anita has given him another promising pupil.

The Robert Lewis Stakes holds special meaning for the California based conditioner as his first Kentucky Derby winner belonged to Mr. Lewis. Having won the race on eight previous occasions and in each of the past two years, this is a common stepping stone for the Baffert barn. Entering Medina Spirit with hopes of finding out just how good his modestly priced ($35,000 purchase) Florida-bred is, he got an answer.

Breaking alertly from the inside post in a talented six horse field, this son of Protonico went right to the lead. Challenged virtually every step of the way, this gutsy Zedan Racing Stable owned colt simply refused to lose. With the strobe lights in full force in deep stretch, the Spirit of a winner was evident. Even though a tough running Hot Rod Charlie and rolling Roman Centurian came at him, in the end it was the Funky Cold Medina by a neck.

Now with two wins and a second in three lifetime starts, Medina Spirit has stamped himself as one of the early dancers in the Derby lineup. His only loss came to another Baffert barn dancer (Life Is Good) in the Sham Stakes. The first Saturday in May is still a long way off, but the jams are starting to pump up.