Medina Spirit, who arrived in Baltimore on Monday, was drug-tested Monday and again Tuesday — as were stablemates Concert Tour, another Baffert-trained colt slated to run in the Preakness, and Beautiful Gift, a filly expected to race in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes — with those results expected to be available Friday.
The timing “will ensure us that if there is or was any betamethasone or any other medications … in the horse we would know about them before the race,” Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for 1/ST Racing, said at a news conference Tuesday at Pimlico Race Course. “This allows us, instead of addressing the issue after the fact, to prevent the issue from becoming a problem.”
Medina Spirit’s positive test for betamethasone — a corticosteroid categorized as an allowable therapeutic, but one that is not permitted to be in a horse’s system on race day — was announced Sunday, eight days after the horse’s unexpected, half-length win in the Derby, and plunged the sport into chaos ahead of the middle leg of its Triple Crown.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert pending results of testing on a split sample and said it would strip Medina Spirit of the Derby win if those results also came back positive — a process expected to take several weeks.
Baffert, after initially denying giving the horse the substance, acknowledged Tuesday morning Medina Spirit was being treated for a skin condition with an antifungal ointment containing the banned substance. Baffert, who has a long and checkered history of doping violations and allegations, chose to stay away from Baltimore this week to avoid being a distraction, leaving assistant Jimmy Barnes to run the operation.
“My investigation is continuing,” Baffert said Tuesday in a statement provided by his attorney, “and we don’t know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results, or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample.”
The Preakness post draw, originally scheduled for Monday, was pushed back to Tuesday afternoon — with Medina Spirit drawing the No. 3 spot and installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite. As in the Derby, jockey John Velazquez will ride Medina Spirit. Concert Tour, which drew the No. 10 position, was the second betting favorite at 5-2.
The agreement allowing Medina Spirit into the Preakness was reached following negotiations between Baffert’s attorney, W. Craig Robertson III, and attorneys for the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico. The track appeared to be motivated, at least in part, by fears of a protracted legal battle — threatened by Robertson — if it tried to keep Medina Spirit out of the Preakness before the full adjudication of the Derby case.
“If any of the three horses test positive … Mr. Baffert, or MJC on his behalf, will scratch that horse from [its] upcoming race,” Robertson said in a letter to MJC attorney Alan M. Rifkin, outlining the terms of the agreement. “Mr. Baffert has given these consents to further the interests of horse racing and the public [and] consents to the public release of this letter and all testing results.”
While some state racing commissions permit small amounts of betamethasone to be in a horse’s system on race day, Benson said in Maryland, “there is no allowable level” of the drug — meaning even a trace amount could disqualify one or more of Baffert’s horses.
Despite the tidy terms of the agreement permitting Medina Spirit to race Saturday, the latest doping controversy involving Baffert remained a messy one for the sport. Baffert, 68, owns a record seven Kentucky Derby titles, following Medina Spirit’s upset win as a 12-1 shot, but his horses have failed drug tests several dozen times over his 40-year career. In one notable case, in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, a Baffert-trained filly named Gamine tested positive for betamethasone.
In the wake of the latest controversy regarding Medina Spirit, others across the industry questioned Pimlico’s decision to allow the horse to race and wondered whether Baffert’s high visibility in the media gave him a benefit of the doubt that wouldn’t have been afforded others.
Daisy Phipps Pulito, part-owner and racing manager of Phipps Stable, suggested the stable might pull out of races unless it was satisfied with the testing results, tweeting that its horses “won’t run in any race at [Pimlico] this weekend where we don’t feel like we are running on a level playing field.”
The controversy also might end up hurting Baffert’s bottom line. Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Ky., began moving some of its 2- and 3-year-old horses out of Baffert’s care this week, with General Manager Ned Toffey telling the Daily Racing Form: “Given the circumstances, we thought it was best to hit the pause button. I think we need to step back, and let’s see how things play out.”