Bob Baffert 90-Day Suspension Begins Monday After Kentucky Court Decision

Posted on: April 4, 2022, 04:33h. 

Last updated on: April 4, 2022, 12:33h.

Horse racing trainer Bob Baffert will begin serving his 90-day suspension handed down by Kentucky stewards on Monday. That’s because a state appellate court on Friday refused to issue a stay to the Hall of Fame trainer as he appeals his case to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC).

Bob Baffert
Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert with American Pharoah, one of his two Triple Crown-winning colts, in a 2015 picture. Starting Monday, Baffert will begin serving a 90-day suspension because of excessive amounts of betamethasone found in the system of Medina Spirit after he finished first in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
(Image: Benoit Photo/Santa Anita)

Baffert was suspended and fined $7,500 in February after stewards disqualified Medina Spirit as the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner. That’s because the colt’s post-race drug test showed excessive amounts of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory medication. The suspension did not immediately occur, as the trainer’s legal team began their appeal.

The move means Baffert will not be able to race horses in any of the Triple Crown races this year. He was already banned by Churchill Downs from its tracks and from the Kentucky Derby in 2022 and 2023, although he’s suing the Louisville-based company in federal court. The trainer also awaits potential punishment from the New York Racing Association, which held a hearing earlier this year.

The 90-day suspension will be honored by all 38 states with a racing commission. Over the weekend, 1/ST Racing, the Stronach Group brand that owns and operates Santa Anita Park, announced that Baffert would be required to vacate the stalls at his home track in Southern California. That’s because of California policies regarding the suspension of 60 days or more.

Key Horses Transferred to Other Trainers

Even before the Kentucky Court of Appeals rendered its decision on Friday, some of Baffert’s most promising horses on this year’s Kentucky Derby trail were transferred to other trainers. That included Doppelganger, who finished fourth in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, and Messier, a colt that has won three of his five career starts. Both horses were transferred to Tim Yakteen, a former assistant to Baffert.

Messier, named in honor of former hockey great Mark Messier, is slated to run this upcoming weekend in the Santa Anita Derby. He would qualify for a spot in the May 7 Kentucky Derby with a win and 100 qualifying points, and would likely earn a spot in the Run for the Roses should he finish second Saturday, which would net the colt 40 points.

Both horses previously ran in Derby preps, but since they were still trained by Baffert at the time, they did not earn any qualification points, per Churchill Downs’ order.

Messier is considered a strong contender to win this year’s, Kentucky Derby. His odds as of early Monday morning are at +525 on the Circa Sports Derby futures board. That’s second only to Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter.

Circa Sports Paul Zilm told last week that Messier’s odds were +1400 before being moved to +700, and he had expected to see some action before the Santa Anita Derby.

Owners Made Move on the Own

On Friday, after the court ruling in Kentucky, a representative from SF Racing LLC issued a statement regarding the four horses moved to Yakteen and Rodolphe Brisset. That came after a March 24 press release from Baffert included a quote from SF Racing that seemed to indicate Baffert had a role in the decision to move the horses.

The owners along made this decision, and they did so in order to give the horses the opportunity they deserve to compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby,” said Tom Ryan in the Friday statement. “There has been some suggestion that Bob Baffert might obtain a financial benefit from the transfer of these horses and that he may somehow remain involved in their management. Both are incorrect.”

SF Racing, owned by billionaire financier George Soros, is part of a large group that owns Messier, Doppelganger, McLaren Vale, and Blackadder. Yakteen also now trains McLaren Vale, while Brisset received Blackadder, who may run in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes, a Derby prep at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

Baffert Continues to Fight

While some of Baffert’s horses have moved to other stables, the trainer plans to keep fighting the KHRC and Churchill Downs suspensions.

A statement issued by Baffert attorney Clark Brewster after Friday’s appeals court ruling indicated they were “disappointed” by the decision, but noted that the court’s denial was based “on procedural grounds.”

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kentucky stewards recorded the May 2021 call to Baffert notifying him of the first positive test on Medina Spirit. Baffert, who was in California during the call, was unaware that stewards recorded it.

The laws about recording calls vary by state. Kentucky is a one-party state, meaning only the caller or another party on the call need to know it’s being recorded. California law requires all parties to be notified that the call is recorded.

Brewster told the Times he doubts the nondisclosure would impact the KHRC appeal or that he would even use it in his arguments.

“But it does show their mindset that they were taping it,” Brewster told the Times. “They should have just announced they were taping it, and everything would have been fine. But to do it in this way, it seems as if they already had intent to try and get Bob.”