Medina Spirit: An Appreciation

He gave everything he had in all of his ten starts.

We watched him develop from a promising juvenile who looked green in the stretch to a Grade I winner who shined on racing's biggest stages.

He was battle tested more than once, and his bravery was palpable. No matter if he won or lost, he could be counted to not back down. No, he would fight for the highest position available.

From the maiden special weight ranks to the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup Classic, Medina Spirit captured countless fans with his ability to run and his unwillingness to back down.

It all began at Los Alamitos last December. He served notice with a nice win on debut at the Cypress venue, and from there it was onward to the Triple Crown trail.

Looking back at that period of Medina Spirit's career, we saw a real talent in action. He was never worse than second during his prep season, and he finished behind then-stablemate Life Is Good twice in the Sham and San Felipe Stakes. Already a force at that point in the year, Life Is Good has since gone on to become a Breeders' Cup winner. Really, that flatters Medina Spirit, who showed real grit throughout the winter and spring.

Just look at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, for example. After taking the early lead, Medina Spirit engaged with Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie in what was arguably the best stretch battle the entire Santa Anita meet.

It was there, the Robert B. Lewis, where we saw the determination of Medina Spirit. And it would not be the last time, either.

Another notable performance came in the San Felipe. Life Is Good was the deserving winner that day, but watch Medina Spirit in the stretch. He fights with Dream Shake turning for home, but he finds something more and puts away his rival in a hard-fought effort. Watching the race now, that can be called an underrated performance.

Medina Spirit loved to race, and it was as if he understood the importance of each race as his career progressed. He would not settle for anything below his best effort each time.

Following his runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit accumulated enough points to take that sought after visit to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. He might not have been among the favorites going into the Kentucky Derby, but he earned his spot in the race with his fellow sophomores. Win or lose, he deserved to race under the Twin Spires.

What followed was a surprise result. Just over two minutes after exiting the starting gate, Medina Spirit got to the wire first in his initial try at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. Out of respect for Medina Spirit, we will not get into the controversy surrounding him regarding the Kentucky Derby, but what must be talked about is that stretch run.

He set the tempo, and then he withstood the challenge of Mandaloun in the stretch. On one of racing's biggest days, Medina Spirit was ready. And the toughness that became his calling card was on full display that spring evening in Louisville.

Next came the Preakness Stakes. Victory was not meant to be at Pimlico, but finishing third in a race that is close to the same distance as the Kentucky Derby after winning the latter event two weeks prior is no small accomplishment. If anything, it showed that Medina Spirit handled yet another track that he visited. By that time, he had competed at Los Alamitos, Santa Anita, and Churchill Downs, winning at all three venues. Adding a third at Old Hilltop was not too shabby.

But Medina Spirit did more. He adapted to Del Mar's dirt track, winning the Shared Belief after getting a summer vacation. Then came the Awesome Again, which provided him with another Grade I score while beating older horses in his first try. When he had the early lead, like he did in that race, he was hard to overtake. Really, outside of the Preakness, no one could catch him when he had a clear lead. He loved being in front, and his opponents had to work to take it from him. Very few could.

Then came the Breeders' Cup Classic. Once again sent to one of the sport's biggest stages, Medina Spirit lost nothing in defeat. The only horse to beat him that day was Knicks Go, who will be Horse of the Year for 2021. Expanding on that, two of the horses that beat Medina Spirit are Breeders' Cup champions. Once more, Medina Spirit has been flattered.

In ten starts, Medina Spirit never finished worse than third. He won at four different tracks, conquered five different distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, and became a multiple graded stakes winner. And he deserved all of that success.

But what made Medina Spirit truly great was how he raced. The dark bay was all business on the track, and the fact he always gave an effort made him easy to root for. Fans of any sport love when athletes give their best. Thoroughbred racing is no different, and Medina Spirit is a great example.

We will not know for several weeks whether Medina Spirit will be named Champion Three-Year-Old. But regardless of the outcome, the Protonico colt already has a title that requires no trophy.

He is the people's champion of 2021. And no horse deserves that honor more than Medina Spirit.

Published December 10, 2021