Horse racing world stunned as Kentucky Derby winner fails test, Baffert suspended

The news came as a shocker on Sunday morning: Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit had tested positive for an anti-inflammatory drug called betamethasone.

The drug is not banned, but there are limits, and the test showed 21 picograms (a picogram is one-trillionth of a gram) of the substance in the horse’s system, which is more than twice the legal limit in Kentucky.

Medina Spirit has not yet been disqualified from the Derby, as more testing will be done.

But in the meantime, the Derby did ban trainer Bob Baffert from entering any horses at Churchill Downs.

“Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate,” Churchill Downs officials announced in a statement. “Churchill Downs will not tolerate it. Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissions’ investigation before taking further steps.”

Baffert, a Hall of Famer, denied any wrongdoing and said he still planned to enter Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s famed Triple Crown.

“We didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “Don’t know how it got in his system. Is it a mistake or something? We’re going to get to the bottom of it.‘’

Churchill Downs said Medina Spirit would be disqualified and second-place competitor Mandaloun declared the winner if its findings are upheld. It also said it would “await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissions’ investigation before taking further steps” on Baffert.

Baffert has trained seven Kentucky Derby winners and two Triple Crown champions – American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

Have horses been disqualified from the Kentucky Derby in the past?

If Medina Spirit ends up being disqualified, it will only be the third time that has happened in the 147-race history of the event.

Dancer’s Image was disqualified in 1968 for testing positive for phenylbutazone, a pain reliever that is used commonly now but was banned at the time. And in 2019, Maximum Security was disqualified after it was determined that he had interfered with other horses in the stretch.

Does Baffert have a history of having horses test positive for banned substances?

According to The Athletic, Baffert has now had 30 horses test positive for various substances over the course of his storied and lengthy career. Some of those have been overturned, including the case of 2019 Triple Crown winner Justify, who tested positive for scopolamine after the Santa Anita Derby.

Gamine and Charlatan tested positive for lidocaine last year, but those were also overturned. Baffert blamed those positive tests on a patch worn by a member of his training staff who was being treated for back pain. Gamine also tested positive for betamethasone. In the case of Gamine, Baffert admitted giving the horse betamethasone. But he denies giving it to Medina Spirit. 

What does this mean for gambling?

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, those who bet on Mandaloun are unlikely to cash in if Medina Spirit is disqualified, noting that once a race is official, the betting results are final regardless of what happens later.

Bob Heleringer, author of “Equine Regulatory Law,” told the paper that that is “one of the most irrevocable standards in racing” and said it is the law in every state.

Here is a sampling of reactions around the sport.


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