Medina Spirit, the Bob Baffert-trained colt whose Derby win two weeks ago is under review pending results of a split-sample drug test, was given final clearance to run for the second jewel in the Triple Crown on Saturday after drug screenings from this week came back clean and an enhanced medical review satisfied race organizers.
The results mean Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour, barring something else unforeseen, will be among the favorites in the 10-horse field for the 146th Preakness, while a third Baffert horse that made the trip to Baltimore this week, filly Beautiful Gift, finished seventh in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday.
The enhanced drug and medical screenings were conditions agreed upon by Baffert’s representatives and Preakness organizers in the wake of the Sunday morning revelation that Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone following the Derby eight days earlier.
The first of those screenings, stemming from blood samples taken May 6, came back clean Thursday. The last two, from May 10 and 11, came back clean Friday. In addition, race organizers said Medina Spirit’s medical records — showing application of the dermatitis ointment Otomax, believed to have been the source of the betamethasone in the horse’s system — were consistent with Baffert’s explanation.
After initially denying Medina Spirit had been given betamethasone and claiming he had been “wronged,” Baffert later acknowledged the horse had been given Otomax in the run-up to the Derby, saying he was unaware the ointment contains betamethasone. The medical records reviewed by Preakness organizers confirmed treatments with the ointment April 9 and April 19.
John Velazquez, as he did in the Derby, will ride Medina Spirit on Saturday, while Mike Smith, who rode Midnight Bourbon in the Derby, switches to Concert Tour in the Preakness, replacing Joel Rosario. Both Medina Spirit and Concert Tour are known as front-runners who could duel for the early lead in the Preakness.
Baffert, claiming he did not want to be a “distraction” this week, stayed away from Baltimore and plans to watch the race from his California home. He has won the Preakness seven times, tied with 19th-century legend R.W. Walden for the most all-time. Either Medina Spirit or Concert Tour — the latter of which was held out of the Derby following a lackluster showing in the Arkansas Derby — could give him an eighth to break the tie.
“They send me these horses, and I’m giving them the best chance to win,” Baffert said of the choice to enter both Medina Spirit and Concert Tour in the Preakness. “They’re both doing really well, so why not? They both might cook each up on the lead. … Sometimes you hate to run two horses. But I’m trying to win the race and give the owners an opportunity.”
Blissfully oblivious to all the laboratory, medical and public-relations machinations going on around him, Medina Spirit — bought for just $1,000 as a yearling, now a superstar with three wins and three runner-up finishes in six career starts — has spent what by all accounts has been a calm, smooth week at Pimlico’s stakes barn. Early Friday morning, he had another easy gallop around the track, followed by a bath outside his stall.
Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant, noted Medina Spirit came out of the Derby in such great condition, handlers had him back on the track four days later for a light jog. “How soon we get back to the track,” Barnes said, “is usually a sign of how happy we are with the recovery from the race.”
Even as the Preakness approaches, the Kentucky Derby outcome remains tied up in the drug-testing system, with Medina Spirit’s apparent win now in question following the positive test. Results from testing on a split-sample are expected back within several weeks, and if that result is consistent with the initial positive, Medina Spirit probably would be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun declared the winner.