Horse trainer Bob Baffert was suspended Wednesday from competing at Churchill Downs Racetrack for two years after attorneys confirmed his Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance in a second drug test.
Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, will be prohibited from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all racetracks owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) hasn’t decided on whether Medina Spirit will be disqualified from its victory at the Derby in May because of the two failed drug tests for betamethasone. According to CDI, “the KHRC is pursuing the completion of its investigation of this matter in accordance with its rules and regulations.”
“CDI has consistently advocated for strict medication regulations so that we can confidently ensure that horses are fit to race and the races are conducted fairly,” Bill Carstanjen, the CEO of CDI, said in a statement. “Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated.
“Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”
Clark Brewster, the lawyer representing Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan, said that a laboratory at the University of California determined that a second post-race sample again found prohibited levels of betamethasone, a corticosteroid used to reduce pain and swelling.
Brewster wrote in a text message to The New York Times that the laboratory didn’t test the blood or urine samples for the presence of other compounds, “which could prove the trace positive came from an inadvertent and materially inconsequential contamination sourced from a topical ointment used to treat Medina Spirit for a skin lesion on his hip.”
The second confirmed positive drug sample could result in Medina Spirit’s disqualification; the horse would be just the second in the 147-year history of the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified for a failed drug test. If disqualified, Zedan will forfeit more than $1.8 million in prize money and Mandaloun, the runner-up, would be declared the winner.
After the initial positive test May 9, Baffert offered a series of theories for how Medina Spirit might’ve tested positive. He also blamed “cancel culture” during a Fox News interview. But two days later, Baffert explained that the betamethasone came from an ointment used to treat a rash on Medina Spirit, rather than an injection.
Baffert-trained horses have failed five drug tests in the last year.
Brewster said the KHRC has agreed to send the original blood and urine tests to an independent and accredited laboratory to determine whether there are components that prove the source was from the topical ointment.
“If it was inadvertent contamination, that should be taken into account,” Brewster told The New York Times. “We’re hopeful that reasonable minds and good-intentioned regulators can see what it is, and what it is not, and not have a draconian response.”