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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By HRI Foreign Staff — The 2021 flat racing season has been tainted by the controversy surrounding trainer Bob Baffert and his Classic winner, Medina Spirit. For those who missed the controversy outside America, here’s how the drama unfolded.

On May 1st 2021, Baffert and his team celebrated wildly at Churchill Downs, as Medina Spirit landed for a huge number of racing tipsters as he handed the Arizona trainer his seventh victory in the Kentucky Derby.

But all celebrations were put on hold the very next day, when it was revealed that the winner had failed a post-race drugs test.

Medina Spirit tested positive for an anti-inflammatory called betamethasone. In 2020, authorities upped the threshold for a positive betamethasone test from 10 picograms per millilitre of plasma, to 21 picograms per millilitre. 24 pictograms of betamethasone were found in Medina Spirit’s sample according to

This was the fifth time in the last 18 months that a Bob Baffert horse had failed a drugs test. Baffert vigorously protested his innocence, claiming “that horse has never been treated with betamethasone” and “the amount that was in it wouldn’t have any effect on the horse anyway.”

Baffert then proceeded to think of ways the drug could have found its way into Medina Spirit’s system. One farcical excuse, which was heartily lampooned on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, involved a stable hand, who was taking cough medicine, urinating on some bales of hay, which the horse proceeded to eat.

Shortly after the first positive sample, the NYRA (New York Racing Association) announced that they had handed Baffert a temporary ban, which barred the trainer from running his horses at any of their racetracks.

The NYRA’s statement read, “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.”

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs racecourse, said Baffert was facing the prospect of a two year ban.

“Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby.” Carstanjen said.

“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.” 

Baffert and his legal team regrouped, filing a law suit against the NYRA. On July 14th, judge Carol Bagley Amon reviewed the case, and sided in the favour of Baffert. His suspension was immediately lifted, allowing him to run horses at that weekend at Saratoga, as their valuable Summer Meet got underway.

“Even if NYRA had probable cause to suspend Baffert, a prompt post-suspension hearing would have been required.” Judge Amon stated following the hearing.

“The 2021 Saratoga summer meet is a one-time opportunity. And given that races are limited to horses of a certain age, an inability to compete in those means those horses will never have the chance.”

Indeed, Baffert took advantage of the judge’s ruling and sent his champion sprinter, Gamine, in for the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes, which she won with authority ($2.70) making all, albeit not with her usual uncommon brilliance.

While this ruling may have secured Baffert a brief period of respite, this matter will rumble on in the courts for months, maybe years to come.

It’s still possible that Medina Spirit will be stripped of his Kentucky Derby victory, and Baffert himself faces the prospect of a fine, and which could even put his trainer’s license in jeopardy.

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