Championships are earned on the racetrack

November 9, 2021

Medina Spirt earned the three-year old Eclipse Award Championship on the racetrack

Corniche earned the two-year old Eclipse Award Championship on the racetrack

A few weeks ago Joe Drape from the NY Times wrote an article about how the Breeders’ Cup was embracing Bob Baffert. I’ll be the first to admit I did not read the article. I only know of it because the headline along with thoughts and comments about it were shared across social media which Past the Wire practically forces me to be a part of.

I was able to gauge Drape’s opinion and the opinion of most who commented was based on Bob Baffert being allowed to run horses in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup. I was also able to gauge Drape and the majority of people who commented felt Bob had too many business and “horse” relationships with people involved in the Breeders’ Cup decision making process. Prior to this year Bob Baffert had 17 Breeders’ Cup victories. You can add 18 second place finishes to that statistic. He added to both categories in 2021. Bob Baffert has never had a positive test of any type in any Breeders’ Cup race win or lose.

Without having read Drape’s article, and being a gambling man by nature, I would bet it was a hit type piece. Personally, I did not think there was any way the Breeders’ Cup could not or would not let Bob compete. This had zero to do with any relationships or dealings he may have had or has with any board or decision makers. I think the Breeders’ Cup went out of their way to be both fair and also to appease the cries to exclude Bob from the Breeders’ Cup. In doing so, I think they actually became unfair in their effort to be fair and I will explain. I will also get to Medina Spirit winning the three-year old Eclipse Award Championship on the racetrack. I’ll get to Corniche too. First, it is important to spell out some pertinent facts for those who still think facts matter.

In their attempt to show the public the integrity of our sport was beyond reproach and that the safety and well being of the horses and the public come first a new and special set of rules were applied to Bob Baffert and Bob Baffert alone. This was done despite Bob never having a positive test in a Breeders’ Cup race or in any out of competition Breeders’ Cup testing. This was done in response to the Kentucky Derby test on Medina Spirit that showed trace levels of the legal therapeutic medication betamethasone. This was done despite of any relationships Bob has or had with any Breeders’ Cup decision makers.

Bob was subject to more testing at his own expense, and surveillance worthy of public enemy number one, while all other trainers were subject to the standard Breeders’ Cup rules which include out of competition testing, and random testing. Bob would be watched closer, and with more frequency, and at his own expense. If he wanted to run, those were the conditions. Trainers with more positives on their resumes were celebrated and welcomed with open arms. I do not want to throw shade at anyone in this article but I think I would be remiss if I failed to point out Flagstaff had a positive test once in a Breeders’ Cup win and you’re in race. His trainer John Sadler had no special set of rules just for him, nor was he subject to the “Baffert rules.” I know all about selective enforcement not being a defense. It still doesn’t make it fair or right. It also doesn’t help preserve the integrity of the game, if anything, selective enforcement hurts it. Does anyone think things got better after Rick Dutrow was banned 10 years? I’d argue they got worse.

“Does this sound like the Breeders’ Cup “embracing Bob Baffert”?

There is a way to improve and police this game, selective enforcement and scapegoats is not it. That is a subject for another day and time.

Bob has won more big races on more big stages all over the world than I care to list here. That equates to more frequent tests, and more scrutiny. I don’t think the special set of rules applied solely to Bob Baffert phased him or how he runs his operation. If I had to bet, I would bet he welcomed the opportunity to show the racing world he’d win regardless but that is just my guess.

The Breeders’ Cup is not the only one who applied special rules to Bob Baffert. Churchill Downs essentially banned him and his owners from competing in the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs came up with a Baffert rule to bar his, and in reality only his horses from earning Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks points. This again was based on the Medina Spirit betamathasone positive. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to make an official ruling on the Medina Spirit betamethasone case. Such a ruling would be reciprocal. House rules are not. NYRA, in what they claimed was an attempt to preserve the integrity of the sport also attempted to ban Bob Baffert from racing there. This was done without due process and Bob was successful, at least for now, in having the ban overturned. Currently, he can compete on the NYRA circuit although NYRA is continuing their efforts to impose the ban. Bob Baffert has never had a positive test at a NYRA track. Back in 2018 Bob was inducted into the NYRA Walk of Fame at Saratoga, I was there. He was given a red Saratoga jacket. Whatever was in his history prior to that day at Saratoga was known to NYRA. Subsequent to that NYRA and Churchill Downs partnered and show both their races on Fox Sports and advertise both their ADW’s, NYRA Bets and Twin Spires during the commercials. I don’t recall that ever happening before and I find it interesting that to date, NYRA is the only other jurisdiction to follow the Churchill Downs non reciprocal ban on Bob Baffert.

This is not about what you think about Bob Baffert. It is not about what you think of the betamethasone positive test on Medina Spirit, or any other positive tests. Again, there are trainers who are celebrated with more positive tests than Bob Baffert has.

I have seen Eclipse voters publicly state they would not vote for Medina Spirit. I can only assume that is because of a positive test for a legal medication which has not been adjudicated. It is my understanding the Eclipse goes to the horse who earned it on the racetrack. Medina Spirit did that, and in what I would have to say in an indisputable fashion. As of today, and likely as of voting day he is still the winner of the Kentucky Derby. If you think the amount of betamethasone found in Medina Spirit affected the outcome of the race, I am not sure you should be voting for Eclipse Award winners. I am not saying it is all right, I am saying it did not affect the outcome of the race. He ran third in the Preakness, and then won the Shared Belief. From there he beat older horses in the Grade 1 Awesome Again. He ran second to likely Horse of the Year Knicks Go. Most significantly, Medina Spirit raced last year’s two year old Eclipse Award winner, and the favorite to win it this year as a three-year old Essential Quality two times. Medina Spirit beat him both times. He is two for two against Essential Quality. Unless you are basing your vote on things that happen off the track or have yet to be decided you have to vote Medina Spirit. Essential Quality is no slouch. He won the Belmont and the Travers and the Jim Dandy in between. Medina Spirit finished in front of him with a win and a second the two times they were in the gate together. Medina Spirit beat older horses, Essential Quality did not. Medina Spirit won the Eclipse Award on the racetrack. I don’t see how anyone worthy of a vote could vote for a horse 0 for 2 against the other horse.

Corniche also won the two-year old Eclipse Award on the racetrack.

Corniche is the early Kentucky Derby favorite with no Kentucky Derby points but a dominant win the the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on his resume. The following is from the Breeders’ Cup press conference:

Corniche getting ready for the Breeders’ Cup

Q. Bob, you’ve got the favorite for the Kentucky Derby and you currently can’t go there. How do you reconcile all that? And then, to the owners, do you have a plan B?

BOB BAFFERT: Well the Derby is a long ways off and so right now my focus was just getting here and we’ll see how it plays out. And there’s still a lot of things going on and so – and, really, there’s not much to talk about that right now, just, like I said, the main thing is to keep him healthy, that’s number one, we have a really good horse, and we have to keep him healthy and the Derby, that’s a long ways off still, so a lot can happen between now and then and we’ll see how it — we got to see how it plays out.

PETER FLUOR: All we have a plan A. This race was such a big race for Corniche and what it means to him and his two-year old standing. And we have said — and Bob’s doing a great job and we have a better chance of winning this race with our friend Bob Baffert and that’s what happened. So we’re kind of enjoying the moment and down the road we’ll focus on that later on, but thank you.

Q. Peter, building off that, did you ever consider moving Corniche to a different trainer and did you feel that the testing protocols that Bob’s horses had to go through were maybe overly stringent a little bit?

PETER FLUOR: Actually, K.C. and I never thought about moving the horse to a different trainer. We talked to Bob right after we bought the horse, he liked the horse, and so the horse was always coming to Bob. And three races and kind of look how he’s done, so, with a great deal of thanks to Bob, and that’s where we are. Thank you.

Q. Bob, a time plan, it’s November now, there’s an investigation going on, do you have any idea how long more that process is going to take, because if you’re going to be preparing a horse for the Kentucky Derby obviously things come around quite quickly.

BOB BAFFERT: I don’t know. I couldn’t really answer that because we don’t know. At this moment I don’t know.

So the Kentucky Derby favorite is with a trainer who is allowed to race everywhere at the moment except where they run the Kentucky Derby or any track owned by Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs swings a big stick. Owning the Kentucky Derby brings power with it. If you recall during the pandemic Churchill Downs was the first to move the date of a Triple Crown race and they did so without consulting either of the other two tracks. They essentially closed Arlington Park in favor of a casino not far away. They closed Calder. They told Ron Turcotte to go park across the street and he is the Triple Crown winning jockey of Secretariat and also paralyzed in a wheelchair. Churchill Downs does what is good for them and their shareholders, not necessarily for racing and to be fair they owe that to their shareholders. They don’t owe you, me, or racing, and apparently Ron Turcotte a thing.

If I was ever fortunate enough to own a horse like Corniche, and the odds of that are pretty slim, nobody, and I mean nobody would tell me, pressure me, or influence me on who I had train them. Nobody, no matter how big their stick was. I’d try and win the three-year old championship without running in the Kentucky Derby and play that song how do you like me now in the winners’ circle.

Racing can be such a funny game. The Sunday after the Breeders’ Cup Bob Baffert won the two year old stake, the Nashua, closing day at Belmont, a NYRA track, with Rockefeller.

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Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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