Bob Baffert Seeks Injunction to Enter Horses in Kentucky Derby 149

Posted on: January 29, 2023, 10:56h. 

Last updated on: January 29, 2023, 06:37h.

The 2023 running of the Kentucky Derby, the biggest spectacle in US horse racing, is now less than 100 days away. However, there are a couple of key events taking place over the next month that will help shape the field. The biggest one will determine whether trainer Bob Baffert can enter a horse in the race.

Trainer Bob Baffert (center) holds a blanket trophy after his horse, Arabian Knight, won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on Saturday. Baffert will need a win in a federal court hearing held later this week to enter any of his 3-year-old horses in the Kentucky Derby. (Image: Oaklawn Racing/Twitter)

This upcoming Thursday afternoon, in a federal courtroom in Louisville, Baffert will get his hearing. The Hall of Fame trainer is currently barred from entering horses at any Churchill Downs Incorporated track through this June. He will have his motion for an injunction to lift that suspension, which the Louisville-based company imposed in June 2021. That was in response to a failed post-race drug test by Baffert’s Medina Spirit, who crossed the wire first in that year’s Derby.

Amid the scrutiny the sport has faced in recent years over the welfare of its equine athletes, Churchill Downs came down hard on Baffert. Not only could Baffert not enter a horse in any race held at a Churchill track across the country for two years, but any horse he entered in a Kentucky Derby prep race would be ineligible to earn points toward qualifying for the race.

That latter point comes into play later in February.

Baffert is suing Churchill Downs, claiming it has no right to prohibit him from entering horses at its tracks. He already served a 90-day suspension handed down by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission last year for Medina Sprirt’s failed test.

Transfer Deadline a Month Away

According to the terms and conditions on the Triple Crown online nominating page, to qualify for the 149th Kentucky Derby, horses in a suspended trainer’s barn must be transferred to a qualified trainer by Feb. 28.

That could force Zedan Racing Stables to transfer Arabian Knight, who dominated in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, away from Baffert to race in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Despite prevailing by nearly six lengths in the Kentucky Derby prep race, Arabian Knight was denied his 20 points for winning the race because of his Baffert connection.

Baffert sought an injunction for last year’s Derby, but he withdrew that a month before the race. Last month, his legal team filed a new motion.

Trainers are instrumental in bringing a horse to market, and only a handful of trainers are capable of producing a Derby horse,” Baffert’s lawyers said in the motion. “By banning all horses trained by Baffert, Defendants and their co-conspirators disadvantaged competing owners by denying them ‘relationships the competitors need in the competitive struggle,’ which is a per se unreasonable restraint on trade.”

When Medina Spirit, another horse owned by Zedan Stables, was considered the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, it meant Baffert held the record for most wins as a trainer with seven. He is back to sharing the record with Ben Jones, who won his six between 1938 and 1952.

Medina Spirit died tragically in late 2021 after a routine on-track workout at Santa Anita.

Forte Early Leader for Derby Qualifying

If Arabian Knight had been eligible for Derby points, his 20 points for the win in the Southwest would have put him in third place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying board.

Todd Pletcher’s Forte leads with 40 points. However, he has not raced since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November. Instant Coffee, trained by Brad Cox, is next with 32, and 20 came from last week’s Lecomte Stakes win at New Orleans Fair Grounds.

However, the bigger races worth more points start taking place in mid-February and run through early April. A win in one of those 14 races, which award 50 or 100 points to eligible winners, essentially guarantees a spot in the May 6 Derby.