Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was suspended for two years by Churchill Downs on Wednesday after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a steroid in two different postrace drug samples.
The suspension begins immediately and lasts through the 2023 Spring Meet at the racetrack.
Attorneys for Baffert and the owner of Medina Spirit said Wednesday that a second postrace sample tested positive for the steroid betamethasone. Attorney Craig Robertson, who represents Baffert, said the second test showed 25 picograms of the steroid, after 21 picograms were found initially.
The two test results could lead to Medina Spirit’s disqualification, which would give the victory to Mandaloun, the horse that finished second in the Kentucky Derby. The decision on whether to disqualify Medina Spirit will be made by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, not Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is still completing its investigation before making that ruling.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Robertson and attorney Clark Brewster, who represents Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan, said Wednesday that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has agreed to send the horse’s original blood and urine samples to be tested for compounds besides betamethasone. They said they expect tests to show the ointment Otomax is responsible for the presence of the steroid and not injections into one of the horse’s joints.
“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.”
Brewster said he hoped the additional tests would come back in a week to 10 days.
“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.”
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.”
Baffert is currently suspended by the New York Racing Association and not allowed to enter any horses in this weekend’s Belmont Stakes pending the Derby investigation. He could face additional sanctions after his fifth medication violation in the past 13 months.
Maryland officials allowed Medina Spirit and Baffert-trained Concert Tour to compete in the May 15 Preakness at Pimlico and filly Beautiful Gift in the Black-Eyed Susan the previous day after all three passed three rounds of prerace testing. Medina Spirit finished third and Concert Tour ninth in the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, which went off without Baffert in attendance.
A Maryland Jockey Club spokesman did not expect to make any kind of formal announcement Wednesday. New York Racing Association spokesman Patrick McKenna said its suspension remains in effect and that the NYRA “will make a determination regarding the length and terms of Mr. Baffert’s suspension at the appropriate time and based on information generated by the ongoing investigation in Kentucky.”
Baffert initially denied wrongdoing in a May 9 news conference announcing the positive result, which he called “the biggest gut-punch in racing for something that I didn’t do.” He later cited the antifungal ointment as a potential cause.
Asked whether he thought tests showing evidence of the steroid coming from an ointment would change the outcome, Brewster said: “You’re asking me to predict the behavior and the decision-making of others, but if you ask me ‘should’ — absolutely.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.