When I went to Churchill Downs with a friend a few days before the Derby this year, the aim was to see as many of the Derby contenders as possible during morning training since I wouldn’t be attending the track’s signature race. And it truly was Medina Spirit that left the biggest impression on me that day, because of the opossum that ran across the track as the colt galloped down the stretch. It was a comical moment, one for the pantheon of memories of rarely seen events at racecourses. And for those who believe in omens, maybe that marsupial was a good luck charm as Medina Spirit went on to victory in the Derby. I thought how funny that the horse who was joined on the track by an unexpected animal was victorious. And I loved hearing the elation of his breeder in articles–a dream come true surrounding the colt she had always believed in, giving him a value beyond his first auction price of $1,000.
What also stood out to me that morning I saw him train (if he saw the opossum at all) was how he took it in stride, revealing a mentality that should be able to handle the pandemonium of a Derby day. It did seem to provide a glimpse into who he was, as an individual.
The controversy that went on to surround Medina Spirit, leaving the status of Derby winner on his record still in doubt, has been well-documented and I think on a day when the horse unexpectedly died of a reported heart attack after a workout is not necessary to rehash. I believe his life should be celebrated, and what he meant to people. That includes his breeder, and her colt deserves acclaim.
What impressed me about Medina Spirit after his Derby was indeed his spirit. He is the epitome of heart, and the world needs individuals like that. It is inspiring. All he knew was he wanted to go out there and try each time.
I know the questions surrounding Medina Spirit are likely to stay attached to his name, even when a legal conclusion is reached regarding his status as a Derby winner. And perhaps this will lead to real reforms, to benefit future racehorses, and be part of his legacy.
But today I remember him for that spirit. Who he was as an individual matters more to me than the rest.
Rest in peace, Medina Spirit.