Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert closed a record-breaking day at Churchill Downs when his lone Kentucky Derby entry 12/1 Medina Spirit held on by half a length to defeat Mandaloun for Baffert's seventh win in the Run for the Roses.
Four horses hit the quarter pole separated by less than two lengths and ended up in the same order as they crossed the finish line in the 147th edition of the first race in the Triple Crown Series.
Baffert trained horses had two other wins on Saturday, including DuJour's turf win in the American Turf Stakes, but the highlight was clearly Medina Spirit's showing in the Kentucky Derby, where he led at every marker but had to rally after Mandaloun briefly overtook him down the stretch.
Favourite Brad Cox trained Essential Quality, who came into the race with five victories in as many races and four wins in prep races, had a tough time getting started and couldn't rally, eventually finishing fourth.
Kentucky Derby recap
Medina Spirit went off at odds of 12/1, well off Essential Quality's 5/2, but he took control early and almost kept his reputation for never being passed intact until Mandaloun caught him with a furlong remaining in the race.
The winner of the Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and a runner-up in three other prep races retook the lead and held off a hard-charging field to give Baffert a chance at another Triple Crown.
Mandaloun, the winner of the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, had followed that up with a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby and left the starting gate with longshot odds of 27/1.
He was the second entry for Cox, who ended up with two horses in the top four, but the big prize eluded him for his first time with colts entered in the Kentucky Derby.
The Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie, one of the favourites on Saturday at 6/1, was able to work his way into contention but couldn't break into the top two even though he was able to hold off Essential Quality for third place.
O Besos, another big underdog at 42/1, was in the middle of the pack in 12th place early in the race and worked his way through the field, finally settling for a fifth-place finish.
Purse winnings and wager payouts
The total purse for the race was $3million, and Medina Spirit's share for the win was $1,860,000, bringing his career winnings to $2,175,200. He paid $26.20, $12.00, and $7.60 on a $2 wager for win, place, or show.
Mandaloun earned $600,000 for second place, paying $23.00 and $13.40.
For his third-place spot, Hot Rod Charlie made $300,000 and paid out $5.20, while Essential Quality was able to provide his connections with a payday of $150,000. For anyone that held an exacta ticket with 8-7, they collected a terrific $503.60.