After Medina Spirit’s triumph at Churchill Downs, which gave Baffert a record seven Kentucky Derby titles, he revealed that the horse tested positive for a steroid, betamethasone, not allowed within 14 days of a race. That could cost Medina Spirit his win, but only if further testing confirms that result. In the meantime, Medina Spirit was allowed to race in Saturday’s Preakness, where he came in third behind Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon. The length and terms of Baffert’s suspension, the NYRA said, will depend on the results of an investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that will include the next batch of test results.
Officials with the organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether a decision in Baffert’s favor could enable him to be reinstated in time to enter horses in the Belmont Stakes.
In a statement Monday, NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said: “In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants. That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”
The organization said it was basing its decision not only on Medina Spirit’s failed drug test but also on similar previous incidents involving horses trained by Baffert. Not counting the pending ruling on this year’s Derby winner, horses under his supervision have accounted for 29 drug violations over the past 44 years, per records kept by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
That group includes Gamine, who tested positive for betamethasone in September after finishing third at the Kentucky Oaks and who, in May 2020, tested positive for lidocaine, a regulated anesthetic agent, after a race in Arkansas. Announcing in November that he was hiring a specialist to help with the well-being and rule compliance of his horses, Baffert said then: “I humbly vow to do everything within my power to do better. I want my legacy to be one of making every effort to do right by the horse and the sport.”
In the wake of Medina Spirit’s failed test, Baffert offered an array of explanations and reactions, beginning with an insistence that the horse had never been administered betamethasone. In an appearance on Fox News a day after revealing the failed test, Baffert remained adamant that “it did not happen,” and he asserted that a suspension he had received from Churchill Downs was related to “cancel culture.” Baffert subsequently acknowledged that before the May 1 running of the Derby, Medina Spirit had been treated with an antifungal ointment that could have caused the failed test.
An assistant trainer for Baffert said Sunday that it hadn’t been determined whether the two horses he ran in the Preakness, Medina Spirit and ninth-place finisher Concert Tour, would be entered in the Belmont Stakes.
“We will evaluate everything, and Bob will see what direction he wants to go with them,” assistant Jimmy Barnes said then (via the Associated Press). “We just need to give him a little bit more time between races. Bob knows what to do, and I will feed him the information and he will tell us what to do.”
In addition to Belmont Park, Baffert’s temporary suspension includes Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack. That could cost him chances to compete in several lucrative races if his ban continues through the summer.