Shortly before the Breeders’ Cup in Keeneland last November, Bob Baffert issued a statement addressing a recent flood of positive drugs for horses in his stable, promising to improve his record.
“I want to have a positive influence on the sport of horse racing,” Baffert said. “Horses have been my life and I owe everything to them and to the tremendous sport in which I have been lucky to participate. We can always do better, and that’s my goal. Given what has happened this year, I intend to do everything possible to ensure that I do not receive any more drug complaints. “
Six months later, it seems fair to say that Baffert’s statement has not aged well. American Racing’s administration and regulation are so fractured that it is not entirely clear whether Medina Spirit’s positive result after his total victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 is Baffert’s 31st career, or simply ” at least “the 31st. What is beyond doubt, however, is that it is by far the most significant, both in terms of its potential impact on Baffert’s position and career, and the potential damage to American racing. in general.
Medina Spirit’s “B” sample test result has yet to be confirmed, but if it is also positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid that is injected into a horse’s joints to reduce inflammation, Medina Spirit will get no status. Desired to be the first Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified for a positive drug test since Dancer’s Image in 1968. Mandaloun, trained by Brad Cox, will be inducted as the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
But it seems unlikely to be the end of the beginning of a process that could convulse American races, during its five annual weeks in the national spotlight as the Triple Crown races unfold.
Churchill Downs, the home of the Derby, immediately suspended Baffert from making innings on the track when news of Medina Spirit’s positive emerged. As its owners noted in, “failure to adhere to medication standards and protocols jeopardizes the safety of horses and riders, the integrity of the sport, and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate.”
Substitute “the Preakness” or “the Belmont” for the Kentucky Derby and the statement remains valid. However, Pimlico in Maryland and Belmont Park in New York seem reluctant to follow Churchill’s lead before the next two stages of the Triple Crown. The Preakness is this Saturday, and Medina Spirit is the obvious favorite.
Even after the 2021 Triple Crown series is finished and dusted off, the regulatory and legal processes following Medina Spirit’s positive could continue for months, maybe even years. Dancer’s Image’s disqualification in 1968 was only finally confirmed almost five years later, when the commissioners’ decision was upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Baffert said he will “fight tooth and nail” at a news conference in his barn on Sunday, “because I owe it to the horse, I owe it to the owner and I owe it to our industry.” The Hall of Famer described the news of Medina Spirit’s positive as “the biggest blow to the stomach I’ve had in racing,” insisting that his foal has never been treated with the drug, and noted that betamethasone is not a “forbidden” substance, in the sense that it has no place in a racing stable. It is therapeutic, not a consciously administered stimulant to enhance performance.
But it should not be administered to a horse within 14 days of a race in Kentucky, and assuming the “B” test is also positive, it was in the Medina Spirit system at more than double the threshold level allowed in one day. career. On that basis, the first place disqualification in the Derby is, or should be, automatic.
But things rarely seem so simple in American races, especially when lawyers get involved. Justify, another Baffert-trained Derby winner, failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby in April 2018, the race that qualified him to run at Churchill Downs before completing the Triple Crown. Like the New York Times revealed more than a year later, however, the “B” sample result did not return until after the Derby, and a closed session of the California Horse Racing Board in August 2018, whose chairman, Chuck Winner, had stocks in horses at Baffert’s yard – effectively he decided to forget that the test ever happened.
Meanwhile, the positives for the 2020 Baffert-trained horses included two returned by first-class filly Gamine, first for lidocaine after a race in Arkansas in May and then for betamethasone after she was third after the place in Kentucky Oaks. Gamine was later disqualified, while Baffert was fined $ 1,500.
If that penalty sounds a bit low for fans of British racing, especially for a coach with more than two dozen prior violations, it was due in part to the fragmented structure of American racing. For various legal reasons, Baffert’s violations of doping protocols in other jurisdictions were ignored.
That should no longer be the case this time next year, at which point a new Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, enacted by Donald Trump in December in one of his final acts in office, should be in effect. . Donald Trump himself, incidentally, who was moved to make a statement about the Medina Spirit case on Sunday, saying, “So now even our Kentucky Derby winner is a junkie. This is emblematic of what is happening to our Country ”.
The Act will impose uniform national standards for drug and anti-doping regulations, and will place the procedures under the control of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. This will replace regimes located in the country’s 38 jurisdictions, which often appeared to be designed and regulated with at least half an eye on keeping coaches and owners happy, in order to maintain field size and important control. betting.
The National Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association, the rough equivalent of the Horsemen’s Group in British racing, strongly opposed the Act and its position statement. remain skeptical on the need for supervision at the national level. In the case of Medina Spirit’s positive test, the damage to the sport’s image has already been done, but if some of his opponents are finally persuaded of the urgent need for a change, the latest doping disaster to hit the American races can have at least one. positive result.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism