Posted: March 23, 2022, 12:22 p.m.
Last update: March 23, 2022, 01:08 a.m.
Time is running out on Bob Baffert’s chances of competing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
The Hall of Fame racing coach was stripped of his 2021 win after Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) stewards disqualified Medina Spirit. The horse had excessive amounts of betamethasone in his system at the time of the race last year. In addition to eliminating the late Medina Spirit as the winner last month, the stewards also handed Baffert a 90-day suspension for repeated drug violations.
Baffert and his attorneys are currently trying to get that suspension stayed while he appeals the commissioners’ decision. This is one of two legal battles fought by Baffert. He also wants to block Churchill Downs Inc.’s two-year ban from racing horses on its tracks and earning points for Derby prep races.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Churchill Downs Inc. told a federal judge that the Louisville-based company would respond to Baffert’s injunction motion next week. They also said the earliest they and company officials would be available for an injunction hearing would be April 13, just three days before the final prep race and 24 days from the Derby him. -same.
That filing came a day after a Kentucky judge denied Baffert’s request to stay the suspension. However, Franklin Circuit Court Thomas Wingate blocked the stay from taking effect until April 4, a decision allowing Baffert’s legal team to seek a stay in the state Court of Appeals.
Baffert: “My confidence is being tested”
One of the main focal points for Baffert and his legal team is that betamethasone was not injected into Medina Spirit, but rather applied as a topical ointment to treat a rash. Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory drug. KHRC pharmaceutical policies state that it cannot be injected less than 14 days before a race, and the limit allowed in a horse’s system is 10 picograms per milliliter of blood.
Race officials said they saw no difference between betamethasone used in ointments and injected betamethasone.
Tests on Medina Spirit came back showing just over double his system’s legal limit by the time he finished first in the Kentucky Derby. At the time, it gave Baffert a record seventh victory in the prestigious race.
On Monday, Baffert, through his attorney Clark Brewster, released a statement to Casino.org saying he was “shocked” by Wingate’s decision.
It is not really disputed that the positive sign of the Spirit of Medina came from the use of an ointment on her skin,” said Bafert. “No coach has ever been fined or suspended for using topical ointment, according to KHRC. No coach has been denied a suspension of the stewards’ decision pending a good faith appeal and due process I want to trust the system, but my trust is being tested.
If the 90-day suspension were to begin on April 4, it would prevent Baffert from competing in any of the Triple Crown races. After the Derby on May 7, the Preakness Stakes is set for May 21 and the Belmont Stakes will take place on June 11.
Besides Churchill Downs implementing its own ban, the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park, is also considering its own action against Baffert. His initial suspension last year was overturned by a federal judge, who ruled that the NYRA failed to grant the trainer due process. NYRA officials held a hearing in January on the matter.
Major Kentucky Derby preparations begin this weekend
As part of the suspension he imposed on Baffert last year after the Medina Spirit drug test, Churchill Downs banned Baffert from all of his tracks across the country. It would also not allow any of his horses to earn points in Kentucky Derby qualifying held at other tracks.
If Baffert pulls a legal version of a daily double — getting a stay in Kentucky and an injunction in federal court — he could have multiple horses in the field. If you were to count the points they were denied, four Baffert horses would currently rank in the top 20.
Corniche, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, would have 30 points. That would put him in the top 10. However, he hasn’t raced yet this year as a 3-year-old.
Two other horses, Newgrange and Doppleganger, are said to have 20 points each, but the colt who may be Baffert’s best chance is Messier, who is said to have 14.
The Kentucky Derby warm-up race schedule kicks into high gear starting this weekend with the United Arab Emirates Derby and Louisiana Derby. Both races will award 100 qualifying points to the winner, 40 to second and 20 and 10 to third and fourth place, respectively.
Baffert cannot enter any horses in the Louisiana Derby because it takes place at the Churchill-owned Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans. However, he has another horse, Pinehurst, winner in three of the five starts, entered in the UAE.
Other 100-point races that could attract Baffert horses are the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 2, and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park on April 9.
Racing scandals erode punters’ confidence
The Baffert trials come as the Race Around the World deals with doping scandals around the world.
Earlier this week, French, Italian and Spanish police arrested nearly two dozen riders as part of an investigation into banned products. Suspects may face charges of drug trafficking and fraud, The sun reported. In Louisiana, four quarter horse trainers have been suspended after their horses tested positive for zilpaterol, the racing website shows. Paulick Report described as a drug commonly used in cattle to build body fat and muscle before going to the slaughterhouse.
Ray Paulick, editor of The Paulick Report and longtime racing industry writer, lamented Twitter late Tuesday night on the state of the sport. It included a screenshot of a message he received from an anonymous “longtime gamer” who asked how many times he had lost a race – and won a race – because of drugs.
Confidence in the game may be at an all time low,” Paulick tweeted.
Some say Baffert’s absence would help with that. PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo called on Baffert to consider permanent retirement from the sport if he eventually serves the suspension.
Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby said in a statement after Wingate’s ruling that Baffert had avoided back-to-back penalties for past transgressions.
“The race for the roses will be paved with more credibility than we have seen in many years if Baffert and his horses are not present,” Irby said. “…Unlike the Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrongs of the world, horses have no say or choice over substances or medications that affect their performance or well-being.”