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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 9, 2021 – As is often the case in the world of entitlement, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Amr Zedan are making the findings and confirmation of an illegal substance in Kentucky Derby victor Medina Spirit not about the findings but about the standard being used.

It appears that when credulity is seriously challenged in the court of public opinion, defense counsel makes alleged transgressions all about process. We may be looking at the racing industry’s version of the JAN 6 Tourist Defense: Simply avert your eyes and ignore the facts whenever possible.

The Medina Spirit defense team has filed a civil suit against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in Franklin Circuit Court demanding that more tests* of post-race samples need be taken in order to achieve the desired result.

In legalese, they are seeking injunctive relief from laboratory findings they claim violate their clients’ due process rights.

Never mind “consciousness of guilt,” Baffert’s breaking with protocol by proclaiming his innocence before regulators announced their findings, followed by his “cancel culture” defense, before walking that back to admit that corticosteroid betamethasone was present within a topical ointment, Otomax, but that he had no knowledge of it being an active ingredient.

In the balance lies a KHRC stewards’ ruling that could lead to the first Kentucky Derby positive finding since Dancer’s Image phenylbutazone positive led to his 1968 Derby victory being nullified.

Along with a potential disqualification looms the possibility of an official state suspension or license revocation–which would be recognized in other racing jurisdictions–and possible significant fines. The international racing community will be watching with interest.

In acknowledging the confirmed sample, the owner and trainer announced their attorneys will call for further testing, the basis of their defense being that the rule’s language is too vague because it does not delineate between a topical application and an injectable substance.

The question most reasonable people are asking is: What’s the difference? If the rule is zero tolerance, does it matter how the substance got there? Apparently, the  defense thinks so. And given his history, it’s unlikely that Baffert would play the contamination card again.  

Split samples are done to confirm the presence of detected substances within the same medium, whether that be urine or blood. The attorneys are insisting that both amalgams be tested; arguing that some other agent may have contributed to the findings also allege that testing samples may have been damaged in handling.

Was it one of the other compounds, or some derivative of betamethasone present in the ointment responsible for the drug positive? At this stage, the KHRC is arguing that additional testing is excessive, outside the bounds of routine procedure.

Kentucky regulations do exempt the use of topicals under proper supervision, but those ointments cannot contain substances that are otherwise prohibited. Thus far, the KHRC has failed to respond to the suit.

Sounds like this case could last for a very long time; justice delayed.

*Kentucky Circuit Court ruled on Friday, June 11, that the Baffert defense team will be allowed to conduct further testing on urine samples, as opposed to the blood samples that produced the initial positive betamethasone findings

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14 Responses

  1. As the old adage among lawyers says, “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts; if you have the law on your side, pound the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, pound the table.”

    Baffert knows that his “Brand” has been damaged, and is desperately attempting to minimize it. CDI and the Industry better make damn sure that he doesn’t wriggle out of what should be an open-and-shut case. If they don’t, and especially after the Justify and Arkansas debacles, widespread, and fully warranted cynicism will reach new record heights.

    1. First of all, glad to finally find some old PR posters somewhere where we can still communicate! As someone mentioned below, justice delayed is justice denied. I find it upsetting that so far KY has allowed this argument of injection vs. topical ointment, and given BB’s team the vast majority of the remaining urine for testing. Both have to be seen as legal victories for BB and I fear this is just the beginning of him skating on charges once again.

      1. Patrick, the court cases will come out the way they come out, that’s how it works. So if he wins, it’s just more of the same or as some might put it, the same-ol’.

        Well good for him and bad for the game.

        If the perception-of course that matters-is that the adjudication process is a technical joke, more people will walk away and the curious might decide to stay as far away as possible in the first place.

        Either way racing loses.

        1. BTW: Was unaware that Kentucky finally let them have a majority of the urine sample.

          We’re not handing all our evidence to the defense team are we?

          1. I saw that i think 3 mls was retained that the rest Baffert’s team got. I still do not understand why Baffert’s team needed it all, except of course to preclude further testing.

            I am searching for that story but I can’t seem to find it. I saw clips of the hearing on Saturday morning under the headline of something like “Small Legal Victory for Baffert” and heard the Judge say that KY could keep 3 mls. He was urging that the parties come to their own resolution, and so perhaps he was just suggesting that 3 mls be kept because I do see where he siad he would issue an order tomorrow if the sides didn’t reach their own resolution. So sorry about that confusion on my part.

  2. JP,

    The Baffert approach has morphed from “I didn’t do it” to “ I did it, but I didn’t know about it” to “ I did it, but it didn’t matter” to “I might have done it, but the damn people testing this stuff are screwing me over”. It does not give one confidence in his innocence and further damages him beyond the actual drug violation.


    1. Peter, I don’t worry about Mr. Baffert, who very likely is set for life, but I do worry about the state of the game and its future moving forward. It’s not personal, it’s strictly love of the game…

  3. JP–
    Baffert and his team certainly have the right to due process and an appeal. However, in the court of public opinion, Baffert has already suffered a significant loss having been found guilty of the use of a substance (betamethasone) for which there is zero tolerance in the State of Kentucky. Although many casual horse racing fans may be unaware of Baffert’s past history of drug violations, this latest violation was front page news since it involved the winner of America’s most famous horse race–the Kentucky Derby.

    Like Dancer’s Image, it is likely that gallant Medina Spirit will be removed from the list of Kentucky Derby champions for an infraction attributable to his human connections, but one that will forever taint his performance despite the courage and determination he displayed in victory. But here’s a related question–is there any procedure or precedent for a human honoree of Thoroughbred Hall of Fame to be stripped of such distinction based upon subsequent transgressions??

    1. Wow, never thought of the Hall of Fame aspect of this situation, Chuck, but will effort to learn more…

      You’re right to have empathy for the horse and its owner, who are the “victims” here and the irony for me is that–I’m not a veterinarian nor do I play one on TV–but I don’t believe that 25 picograms of betamethasone enhanced the performance.

      But that’s not the point, of course. Racing rules, however misguided at times, are meant to protect the public, who also were victims here. Anyone who wagered on the Derby had the right to expect that all would be on the same playing field.

  4. No more excuses this time. This is not California Hollywood Bob. Time to serve your sentence.

  5. Justice delayed is Justice denied. Most trainers believe winning is in something they can’t test for and that is a fact. Kat

    1. Kathleen, I can’t disagree re the mentality of many trainers, but I can’t throw all horsemen under the same bus. It’s a huge problem and the Feds had better hit the ground running next year!

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