Churchill Downs suspends Bob Baffert after his Kentucky Derby winner tests positive

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Bob Baffert was suspended indefinitely from racing horses at Churchill Downs hours after the Hall of Fame trainer revealed Sunday morning that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for an overage of a medication.

“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols,” the statement released by the racetrack said. “The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so. To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.

“Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate. Churchill Downs will not tolerate it. Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation before taking further steps.”

Just a week ago, Baffert won his record-setting seventh Run for the Roses and second in a row with the 12-1 shot Medina Spirit in Louisville. All of the Kentucky Derby horses received postrace drug tests after the May 1 event.

Baffert, during a hastily called press conference from the track Sunday, said his assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes, was told Saturday of the positive test by the Kentucky Racing Commission. Medina Spirit tested positive an overage of betamethasone, a corticosteroid.

Baffert said the horse was never administered the drug and that he will challenge the accusation.

If Medina Spirit were to be disqualified it would be the first Kentucky Derby DQ for medication since Dancer’s Image in 1968.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s something that is not right,” Baffert said. “There’s a problem somewhere. It didn’t come from us.”

The colt cannot be disqualified until a split sample confirms the result. Baffert will then have an opportunity to appeal. If disqualified, Medina Spirit would be stripped of the Derby title and the winning purse.

Flanked by his attorney Craig Robertson at Churchill Downs on Sunday, Baffert said Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of the steroid, double the legal threshold in Kentucky racing.

That is the same drug that was found in the system of Gamine, another Baffert-trained horse who finished third in the Kentucky Oaks last September.

Baffert denied any wrongdoing and said he did not know how Medina Spirit could have tested positive. He said Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethasone and called it “a complete injustice.”

“I got the biggest gut-punch in racing, for something I didn’t do,” said Baffert, who vowed to be transparent with racing investigators. “I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged.”

Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory medication administered by injection.

Medina Spirit had finished second in her two races prior to the Kentucky Derby but captured last Saturday’s race in wire-to-wire fashion with jockey John Velazquez aboard. The Derby victory was not only Baffert’s seventh but the fourth for Velazquez.

Mandaloun finished second to Medina Spirit by a half-length. Hot Rod Charlie was third and race favorite Essential Quality fourth.

Medina Spirit is scheduled to pursue the second leg of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. None of his three closest pursuers in the Derby will run in the Preakness.

Last month, Baffert won an appeals case before the Arkansas Racing Commission, which had suspended him for 15 days for a pair of positive drug tests involving two of his horses that won at Oaklawn Park on May 2, 2020. The horses tested positive for lidocaine, a painkiller, which Baffert said they were exposed to inadvertently.

The New York Times said in November 2020 that Baffert-trained horses have failed at least 29 drug tests in his four-decade career. In addition to Medina Spirit, Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), Justify (2018) and Authentic (2020).

“I’m worried about our sport,” Baffert said Sunday. “Our sport, we’ve taken a lot of hits as a sport. These are pretty serious accusations here, but we’re going to get to the bottom of it and find out. We know we didn’t do it.”

Among those reacting Sunday was The Jockey Club, an organization dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

“Along with everyone in the sport, we were troubled by the report today. ... ,” their statement 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.”

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