Baffert Facing Suspensions in Multiple Horse Racing Jurisdictions

Churchill Downs Inc. has suspended racehorse trainer Bob Baffert for two years. The disciplinary action is the latest for Baffert as the investigation into Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive drug test continues.
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Medina Spirit
Medina Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert, failed drug testing after coming in first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. | Coady Photography
Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended from Churchill Downs for two years, according to a June 2 statement by Churchill Downs Inc (CDI). The disciplinary action is the latest for Baffert as the investigation into Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive drug test continues.

Following Medina Spirit’s win in the May 8 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve—Baffert’s record-breaking seventh—a postrace blood test came back positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone. Officials requested a second test, referred to as a split sample, to confirm the results.

Churchill Downs immediately suspended Baffert indefinitely. With the Preakness Stakes two weeks away, the Maryland Racing Commission allowed Baffert to enter and run horses at Pimlico Race Course, including in the Preakness Stakes, but only after extensive pre-race testing.

On May 17, the New York Racing Association temporarily suspended Baffert from entering horses or occupying stalls at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack, citing “the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by Thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas.”

The horse racing industry has no federal oversight, meaning each state is responsible for implementing and enforcing its own rules and regulations. The Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act was signed into law Dec. 20, 2020, to develop national, uniform standards for horse racing, though several lawsuits are challenging the act and alleging constitutional violations.

“In order to maintain a successful Thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public, and racing participants,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a May 17 statement. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of Thoroughbred racing.”

On June 2, CDI announced its two-year suspension of Baffert, effective immediately and through the conclusion of the track’s 2023 spring meet. A statement from CDI indicated the decision “follows the confirmation by attorneys representing Bob Baffert of the presence of betamethasone, a prohibited race-day substance, in Medina Spirit’s bloodstream on the day of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby.”

The New York Times originally broke the news that the split sample results were positive, confirming the post-race test’s accuracy. Medina Spirit’s first test showed 21 picograms per mL, while the second showed 25 picograms per mL.

The CDI suspension prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks, which includes four other Kentucky racetracks, as well as tracks or casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, and Maine.

“CDI has consistently advocated for strict medication regulations so that we can confidently ensure that horses are fit to race and the races are conducted fairly,” Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI, said in the June 2 statement. “Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable, and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated. Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in Thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, not Churchill Downs, has the authority to disqualify Medina Spirit from the Kentucky Derby. According to CDI’s statement, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation remains in progress.

According to its earlier statement, the NYRA expects to make a final determination regarding the length and terms of Baffert’s suspension based on information revealed during the ongoing investigation in Kentucky.

Baffert’s main stable and residence is in California. On May 24, the California Horse Racing Board issued an advisory stating: “The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) is aware of the situation surrounding Bob Baffert and the alleged positive relative to the Kentucky Derby. Racetracks in Kentucky and New York have temporarily precluded Mr. Baffert from entering horses and/or using stalls. To date, the regulatory bodies in those two states—the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New York State Gaming Commission—have not taken any action against Mr. Baffert’s license. They face the same issue the CHRB does in that regulators cannot suspend or revoke occupational licenses without a hearing and due process. Should any regulatory body take action against any licensee, we would reciprocate that action in California.”

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium states that betamethasone is “widely used in equine veterinary medicine as a steroidal anti-inflammatory.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several products that include betamethasone for intra-articular use in joints to control pain associated with inflammation and osteoarthritis. Baffert has maintained that the positive test is the result of Medina Spirit being treated for a skin condition with Otomax, a topical ointment containing betamethasone.

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Stacy Pigott is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Arizona. For 25 years, Stacy served as editor for various equine publications in the Quarter Horse racing and Western performance horse industries. She currently works at the University of Arizona, where she is a public information officer covering health sciences news and research. She hopes to compete in eventing and jumping with her OTTB Nicky.

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