Kentucky Derby Winner Tests Positive for Betamethasone

Medina Spirit’s win in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve remains in question after a postrace blood test indicated the presence of betamethasone, a corticosteroid prohibited in horse racing.

Medina Spirit, a 3-year-old colt trained by Bob Baffert for owner Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stables, went wire to wire under jockey John Valazquez to win the Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Derby win, a record seventh for Baffert, could be overturned if a second round of testing, known as a split sample, also shows the presence of betamethasone.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium states that betamethasone is “widely used in equine veterinary medicine as a steroidal anti-inflammatory.” Several equine products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include betamethasone for intra-articular use in joints to control pain associated with inflammation and osteoarthritis.

According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s April 2020 drug withdrawal time guidelines, betamethasone may be administered intra-articularly up to 14 days prior to a race. The acceptable threshold level was reduced from 10 picograms per milliliter (mL) in serum or plasma to zero in August 2020. Medina Spirit’s test showed 21 picograms per mL.

Reactions to the positive test were swift.

The Jockey Club, the breed registry for the Thoroughbred in the United States and Canada, also issued a statement that read in part: “We sincerely hope justice is swift, sure, fair, and uniform. Bettors and fans need to have unshakable confidence in the integrity of the sport. The passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) undeniably will give our sport a far better level of regulation.”

On May 11 Baffert issued a statement through his lawyer, Craig Robertson III, stating that Medina Spirit had been treated for a skin condition with Otomax, a topical ointment labeled for dogs containing betamethasone, for dermatitis. Physicians often prescribe betamethasone topically to treat a variety of skin conditions including eczema, dermatitis, rash and allergies in people.

Baffert is currently suspended from Churchill Downs pending the results of the split sample. Medina Spirit has moved on to Pimlico Race Course, in Maryland, where he will be allowed to compete in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 16, as long as a prerace drug test is negative.