LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Trainer Bob Baffert was suspended for two years by Churchill Downs on Wednesday after an additional drug test of Medina Spirit confirmed the presence of the steroid betamethasone in the Kentucky Derby winner’s system.
Disqualification of Medina Spirit could be next. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is still completing its investigation before making that ruling.
But Baffert will not be able to enter any horses in the Kentucky Derby or other races at the storied Louisville track through the spring of 2023. Churchill Downs says it reserves the right to extend Baffert’s suspension if he has any other violations in other states. Baffert has had five in the past 13 months.
Churchill Downs initially suspended Baffert indefinitely pending the investigation. Maryland racing officials allowed Medina Spirit and Baffert-trained Concert Tour to run in the Preakness on May 15 only after undergoing three rounds of prerace testing, while New York banned Baffert indefinitely and prevented him from entering any horses in the Belmont Stakes.
“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,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said. “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.”
Earlier Wednesday, lawyers for Baffert and Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan confirmed the split-sample test came back positive for betamethasone.
Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, said the second test showed 25 picograms of the steroid, after 21 picograms were found initially. Even a trace amount of betamethasone — a picogram is a trillionth of one gram — is prohibited on race day in Kentucky, Maryland and New York, which are home to the sport’s Triple Crown races, and considered a violation.
Robertson said additional testing is being conducted to try to trace the source of the drug to an ointment to treat a skin infection and not an injection. He and Zedan attorney Clark Brewster said they expect tests to show the ointment is responsible and not injections into one of the horse’s joints.
“I think that will shed the light most prominently on the issue here for us,” Brewster told The Associated Press by phone. “The whole basis for listing betamethasone is because it’s injected into a joint and they want you not to inject the joints too close to the race, so the whole substantive basis is out the window if it’s a salve, and it can be proven scientifically and empirically to be the salve.”
Rules in Kentucky do not differentiate punishment based on the source of the substance, which can be given to horses to help their joints and Baffert believes came from the dermatitis ointment. Churchill Downs said Medina Spirit would be disqualified if the split sample came back positive for betamethasone.
A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. Sherelle Roberts-Pierre said the commission “values fairness and transparency and will provide information to the media and public at the close of an investigation.”
Brewster said he hoped the additional tests would come back in a week to 10 days.
“At the end of the day, we anticipate this case to be about the treatment of Medina Spirit’s skin rash with Otomax,” Robertson said. “We will have nothing further to say until the additional testing is complete.”
If Medina Spirit is disqualified, Mandaloun would be elevated as the winner of the May 1 Kentucky Derby.
“I can’t control the outcome of that, so it’s something I give very, very little thought to,” said Brad Cox, who trains Mandaloun and would be the first trainer from Louisville to win the race.