Medina Spirit Disqualified as Kentucky Derby Winner, Bob Baffert Suspended 90 Days
Posted on: February 21, 2022, 01:30h.
Last updated on: February 21, 2022, 01:52h.
UPDATE 4:30 pm ET – This story has been updated to include comments from Bob Baffert’s attorney, the impact of the suspension, and reaction from Churchill Downs and animal welfare advocates on the decision to disqualify Medina Spirit as the Kentucky Derby winner.
Medina Spirit, who won the 2021 Kentucky Derby for trainer Bob Baffert, was officially stripped of the win by racing stewards Monday. That’s after it was determined the colt violated a drug test. In addition, the stewards also suspended the Hall of Fame trainer for 90 days and fined him $7,500 for the violation.
An attorney for Baffert told Casino.org his client will appeal the decision immediately to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
A week after Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby – giving Baffert a record seventh win in the classic horse race – reports surfaced that the colt tested positive for an excessive amount of betamethasone. In an emotional press conference with reporters after the news broke, Baffert denied the horse had been given the substance. However, days later, he learned that it was part of a topical solution a veterinarian gave the horse to treat a skin condition.
The drug test found 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory agent per milliliter of blood in the horse’s system. Kentucky racing standards allow for 10 picograms per milliliter.
The stewards’ ruling not only strips Medina Spirit of the win, it also means his connections must forfeit their prize money as a result. The ruling also means Mandaloun will be deemed the Kentucky Derby winner, the second time in three years the result was changed by a stewards ruling.
Churchill Downs issued a statement Monday afternoon congratulating the connections to Mandaloun for winning the 147th running of the prestigious race.
“Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction,” the track said in a statement.
The ruling, though, does not change any wagering results.
After news of the failed drug test, Churchill Downs announced it would suspend Baffert from its tracks – and the Kentucky Derby – for the next two years. The New York Racing Association also took action, but its initial action was thrown out by a federal judge, who claimed the racing operation did not give Baffert due process before handing down its decision. Earlier this year, NYRA held an inquiry in its case against the trainer.
Medina Spirit continued to race after the Kentucky Derby and finished third amid heightened scrutiny in the Preakness two weeks later. The colt then won two more stakes races before finishing second to Knicks Go in November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in California.
A month later, Medina Spirit would collapse and die after a training session at Santa Anita. A necropsy report released earlier this month found no definitive cause of death.
Baffert Lawyer: Decision “Runs Contrary” to Facts
In a statement to Casino.org, Baffert attorney W. Craig Robertson said he was “very disappointed” by the decision handed down Monday by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s (KHRC) Board of Stewards. Baffert, Medina Spirit owners Zedan Racing, and their attorneys appeared before the stewards at a hearing last Monday on the matter.
It runs contrary to the scientifically proven facts in this case and the rules of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” Robertson said in an email. “We will be filing an immediate appeal.”
That appeal goes straight to the KHRC. Should the state’s regulatory body for horse racing uphold the stewards’ decision, Baffert and Zedan Stables could then file another appeal in Franklin Circuit Court. That’s the state-level court in the state capital of Frankfort, where the commission and most state offices are based.
Getting to the stewards’ hearing last week involved a protracted legal battle over the sample for Medina Spirit. Under testing guidelines, the sample taken after a race is split. Should the first part of the sample come back positive, the second part is then tested.
A Franklin Circuit Judge last year ruled that Baffert and Zedan would get 20 milliliters of the second half of the split sample to be tested at a lab of their choosing.
In December, Robertson announced that the sample showed the betamethasone found in Medina Spirit’s system was from a topical medication and not an injection. He claimed that was key because state guidelines deal with injection protocols.
The stewards’ ruling Monday did not note the difference, only that a Class C drug violation was found. As it was Baffert’s fourth drug violation across jurisdictions in less than a year, the penalties for him were heightened to a 90-day suspension and $7,500 fine.
The ruling calls for the suspension to take effect on March 8 and run through June 5. Suspensions are recognized across state lines, meaning Baffert could not enter horses for any race during his suspension.
Unless he can get a stay on the suspension or get it overturned, that would cover such Kentucky Derby prep races as the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby, the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial, and the Blue Grass Stakes – although Churchill Downs has not been awarding Baffert-trained entries any points in prep races already. The suspension would also cover the Preakness Stakes.
Another Baffert attorney previously said the trainer is considering a federal lawsuit against Churchill Downs that would seek to let him enter horses in Derby preps and the Derby itself if they earned enough points.
The status of that, though, is unknown. A message to Clark Brewster was not immediately returned on Monday.
Implications from a Historic Decision
Medina Spirit becomes just the second horse to lose a Derby title to a failed drug test. Dancer’s Image lost the 1968 Derby due to a failed drug test. In 2019, Maximum Security passed first under the wire, but stewards ruled minutes after the race that he interfered with other horses, causing the colt to be taken down from the board.
The disqualification of Medina Spirit is historic for racing, and the public relations hit against Baffert, the individual most see as the greatest trainer in racing history, is far more significant than the fine and suspension.
Kentucky officials previously fined Baffert $1,000 after his filly Gamine tested positive for the same substance after the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, which was run in September of that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, Arkansas officials suspended Baffert for 15 days after lidocaine was found in Gamine and Charlatan during races held in May of that year. In April 2021, the Arkansas Racing Commission voted to uphold the drug test rulings. However, they lifted the suspension in lieu of two $5,000 fines. The commission also allowed the horses’ victories to stand in those races.
There had previously been allegations surrounding Justify, Baffert’s Triple Crown winner from 2018, after claims arose nearly 18 months later that the colt tested positive for scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby – the race that allowed Justify to enter the Kentucky Derby.
Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president for PETA, called on racing officials Monday to strip Justify of his Triple Crown status.
Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, thanked the KHRC “for taking action against American horse racing’s most infamous violator” and said other agencies need to follow suit.
“Baffert continues to drag horse racing through the mud in scandal after scandal, and we call on every racing jurisdiction in the nation to hold him accountable by reciprocating the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s suspension in their own state,” said Irby in a statement. “We’re elated that Baffert won’t be participating in the upcoming 2022 Kentucky Derby and believe the horses will be better off, and the event will have more credibility, without him.”
Irby’s group was pivotal in lobbying for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, a law passed by Congress in late 2020 that seeks to nationalize drug and safety standards in the sport. The push for the law came in earnest after a rash of horse deaths in 2019 raised concerns about the welfare of animal athletes.
The law calls for the US Anti-Doping Agency to oversee drug testing in racing, but negotiations broke down between the independent agency and the board tasked with launching the new national effort to improve racing’s integrity.
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