Kentucky Derby-Winning Trainer Baffert Gets New York Suspension Lifted

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Bob Baffert has won. He isn’t yet in the clear on suspicion that Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby-winning colt he trained, had been given steroids before the race, but he can claim a small victory after a New York judge ordered the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to back down on Wednesday. Brooklyn Judge Carol Bagley has vacated the suspension the organization had given Baffert this past May.

Baffert Back to the Gates

In a routine drug test following the colt’s win at the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit was found to have traces of steroids in its system. The steroid, betamethasone, is legal in small doses when used to treat certain injuries and inflammation, but cannot be used on the day of a race. After the test results were made public, and while they were being contested, the NYRA issued a permanent ban against Baffert’s participation at any of its three New York tracks. The Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs then took similar measures, implementing a two-year ban.

Baffert, who has maintained that the presence of betamethasone could only be a result of the use of a topical cream to treat the colt, then sued the NYRA, arguing that he had been unjustly prosecuted and persecuted without a chance to defend himself. Judge Bagley agreed, ruling that he had not been afforded due process as required by law. She also hit back at the NYRA for subjective application of the rules, asserting, “…As uncontested data show, NYRA has permitted numerous trainers to race at NYRA this season who have medication violation histories comparable or more serious than Baffert’s. These data belie NYRA’s claim that integrity or safety [demands] the exclusion of someone with a violation record like Baffert’s.”

The reversal meant that Baffert was eligible to enter a horse or horses at the NYRA’s Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga tracks. A meet began yesterday at Saratoga that runs through September 6; however, there have been no indications that Baffert is participating. Other races in the state beginning next month will be likely targets, giving the Hall of Fame trainer time to get organized.

Still No Word on Medina Spirit

After Medina Spirit tested positive for steroids, a request to have a third-party lab run analysis on the colt’s blood and urine was granted. The level of betamethasone still registered higher than what would have been expected under normal circumstances, although the tests didn’t produce definitive proof. Still, Churchill Downs handed Baffert the two-year suspension, which he has not contested through legal channels.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) now has to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to strip Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby title. The commission will hold a hearing on the matter at some point, but hasn’t said when. If history is any indication, it may be a long time before a decision is made. The only other time a horse has been disqualified for a positive drug test was in 1968, when Dancer’s Image popped positive for phenylbutazone. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that the final outcome was reached. The runner-up, Forward Pass, had been handed the win, but it took a Kentucky court judge’s involvement to settle a four-year legal battle before the case was put out to pasture.  

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