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Del Mar winner’s circle great site for Medina Spirit

Disputed Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit led wire-to-wire Sunday in a virtual match race with West Coast rival Rock Your World to win the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.

The two 3-year-olds ran alongside one another for most of the mile, Medina Spirit hugging the rail with Rock Your World to the outside.

But Medina Spirit, who broke first from the gate under jockey John Velazquez, never gave up the lead to win by 1¼ lengths ahead of Rock Your World and Umberto Rispoli.

“It went the way we wanted,” said Velazquez, who flew in from Saratoga for the race. “Once I made the lead into the first turn, I felt better. He was moving well. When he got on the backside, his ears went up and he was really cruising.”

“We needed this,” said Bob Baffert, the beleaguered trainer of Medina Spirit, whose win in the Kentucky Derby is in dispute due to the finding of a substance in his post-race blood test.

“We’ve all been through a lot. I wanted to run him here and see if he likes Del Mar. But I didn’t have any intention of running him in this race until a couple weeks ago … it might sound crazy running the Kentucky Derby winner in a $100,000 race.”

Baffert called the victory — Medina Spirit’s first in just two starts since the Kentucky Derby — “a relief.”

“It’s good that fans were here for the showdown with Rock Your World,” said Baffert. “For what this horse has gone through … he’s such a game horse.”

So was Rock Your World, who drifted out slightly in the stretch and survived an objection lodged by jockey Kent Desormeaux on third-finishing Stilleto Boy — who was making a run at the leaders in the stretch when he bumped with Team Merchants.

“Rock Your World ran well,” said Rispoli. “He ran a huge race. He got beat by the winner of the Kentucky Derby. What are you going to do. I can’t ask anything more of my horse.”

Said Juan Leyva, the assistant to Rock Your World trainer John Sadler: “Rock Your World ran his race. But Medina Spirit is a very nice race horse and gets my respect. He got the best of us. No excuses.”

There was no question that the Shared Belief Stakes was a steppingstone for Medina Spirit, who could next run in the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on the first weekend of November.

“He can build off this race,” said Velazquez. “He was into this race. He finished strong and the gallop out was strong, too.”

“I was nervous coming into this race,” said Baffert. “But Medina Spirit looked great in the paddock. It was good to see him back today. And he felt it. It’s been an interesting year. All the best 3-year-olds are close. He looked good and Velazquez said he feels better than ever.

“There’s still some good racing for him out there.”

Del Mar updates

Del Mar’s 15-day Bing Crosby Meeting will open Wednesday, Nov. 3, and feature the 38th Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5-6.

The fall meeting will cover four weekends opening with a five-day program that includes Del Mar’s second Breeders’ Cup — the track also hosted in 2017.

The middle two weekends will run Friday-Sunday with the final weekend going from Thanksgiving through Sunday, Nov. 28.

The fall meeting will include 18 stakes racing outside of the Breeders’ Cup program.

Del Mar’s stakes will be topped by two Grade Is on the final weekend — the Hollywood Derby (11/8 miles on the turf for 3-year-olds on Nov. 27) and the Matriarch Stakes (1 mile on the turf for older fillies and mares on Nov. 28).

Both the Grade I races will be worth $400,000 — the largest purses ever at Del Mar outside the Pacific Classic. There will also be four Grade II and six Grade III stakes this fall.

Also, Del Mar is changing the first post time for the final three days of the summer meeting, advancing the start of the program 30 minutes to 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Labor Day). First post Thursday will remain 2 p.m. Friday’s first post will be at 3:30 p.m.

Notable

Del Mar suffered a third fatality this meeting when Moonlite Promise was euthanized Sunday morning after suffering a catastrophic hind quarter injury while training. Luis Mendez was the trainer of the 3-year-old.

With five wins in a span of 14 races — including two in the same race Saturday — Sadler has moved into second in the trainer standings going into the final weekend. Two horses trained by Sadler (Little Liliana and Kalon) finished in a dead heat for the win in Saturday’s fifth race. “I’ve been involved in lots of dead heats, but none with both of them my horses for the win,” said Sadler.

Center is a freelance writer.