Baffert it’s the story that won’t go away. The Kentucky Derby takes two minutes to run, but the fallout from the race has lasted almost a year the legal issues surrounding the positive drug test on the deceased Medina Spirit and the actions of his trainer Bob Baffert were pursued through the courts and the corridors of racing’s official governing bodies.
How did this Bob Baffert issue start?
On May 1, Medina Spirit led all the way to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Bob Baffert-trained 12-1 chance beating Mandaloun by half a length. So far, so simple.
Eight days later, news broke that the colt had tested post-race positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory medication that can be legally used but must be out of the horse’s system before the day of the race under Kentucky regulations.
Bob Baffert first denied that Medina Spirit had ever been given betamethasone, then two days later backtracked and admitted that the colt had been treated for dermatitis with an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax, which contains betamethasone. Three weeks later, it was announced that the split sample – the ‘B’ sample – from the original test was also found to contain prohibited levels of betamethasone, an outcome that would normally lead to a horse’s disqualification.
What happened next?
As soon as the positive test was made known, Churchill Downs suspended Baffert from entering horses at the track. In a press release, it noted that “Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate. Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.”
The following week, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) also suspended Baffert from entering horses at its three tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
Unlike other racing jurisdictions around the world, there is no overall governing body for horse racing in the US. Policy decisions are made on a track-by-track basis, or by the ownership bodies responsible for a group of tracks. Baffert was out of Churchill Downs, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, but he could still run horses elsewhere.
When the positive split sample was announced, Churchill Downs handed down a two-year suspension to Baffert, keeping him off the Louisville grounds through the 2023 spring meeting.
Was Medina Spirit disqualified from the Derby?
Yes, he was. Medina Spirit is no longer the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The colt, who died unexpectedly in December, was officially disqualified by Kentucky racing officials for failing a drug test after winning the race.
What was Baffert’s response?
He protested his innocence, saying that the presence of betamethasone is not performance-enhancing and that the drug was accidentally introduced into the horse’s system through surface medication prescribed by veterinarians, rather than deliberately introduced via injection. This may very well be true, but the fact remains that Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned race-day substance, however the circumstances of transmission.
The Medina Spirit case is his fifth medication violation in little more than a year and his 30th during his 44-year career, most of them involving legal medication that failed to clear a horse’s system by raceday and most resulting in fines or short suspensions. His 2020 Kentucky Oaks third Gamine was disqualified after testing positive for betamethasone.
Baffert has trained seven Kentucky Derby winners and two Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify, yet he is becoming almost as well known for medication violations as he is for big-race success.
What Baffert has been doing this 2022?
After the hearing scheduled for January 24, at which Baffert argued that the positive test arose from the medical application of ointment rather than from an attempt to ‘dope’ the horse, the Churchill Downs Incorporation issued a statement claiming that Baffert’s actions had degraded the Kentucky Derby and the whole Thoroughbred industry countrywide.
As a result, Baffert was officially banned for 90-days from all enclosures under the jurisdiction of the California Horse Racing Board.
Before the suspension ended in July, the Hall of Fame trainer said he would spend time away from his barns and the tracks to focus on his family and his health.
Bob Baffert & the 2022 Breeders Cup
Baffert has earned several graded races and also some qualifiers races for the Breeders Cup of this year announcing his return to horse racing after being suspended.
His recent victory for the worlds championship came in the G1 Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita with Speed Boat Beach, the prohibitive favorite, which overcame an awkward start to win by 1 ¼ length and get a fees-paid berth into the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland
In September, Baffert obtained the G1 Awesome Stakes, where Defunded, who had never won graded stakes before took the lead early and wouldn’t give it up over the 1-1/8-mile race to win by 1¾ lengths getting an all-expenses-paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
During that month, Baffert-trainee Cave Rock unleashed a powerful front-running performance in the G1 American Pharoah Stakes winning by 5 ¼ lengths and getting a spot into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
A new officer named for the Baffert-Medina Spirit appeal
Eden Davis Stephens, the deputy director of the Kentucky Office of Administrative Hearings, will replace Clay Patrick, who recused himself from presiding over the appeal a few days after the six-day hearing ended when he found that Clark Brewster purchased a yearling owned in part by Patrick and his farm at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
The next steps in the case are unclear at this time, as the new hearing officer to restore the late Medina Spirit as the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby and erase trainer Bob Baffert’s already-served suspension, Stephens may hold another hearing or utilize the transcripts from the first appeal to issue a recommendation.
as the new hearing officer to restore the late Medina Spirit as the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby and erase trainer Bob Baffert’s already-served suspension.
Eventually, the hearing officer in the appeal will make a recommendation to KHRC, which is free to accept or reject it, at which point the losing party is likely to take the matter to court.
What does this mean for racing?
This scandal goes a long way towards confirming public suspicion that racing is crooked, especially as it occurred in the highest-profile race of the year, the one race that reaches beyond racing’s bubble and into society as a whole. The long-drawn-out nature of the saga is keeping the scandal in the headlines, giving those without a day-to-day interest in racing their only contact with the sport. Racing will of course survive, but serious damage has undoubtedly been done to its reputation – already shaky – in the eyes of the wider world.
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