In a move that should not come as any surprise, Hearing Officer Peter Sherwood recommended April 27th that trainer Bob Baffert receive a two-year suspension from the New York Racing Association for overages of legal therapeutic medications that occurred at non NYRA racetracks. Bob Baffert has never had a medication violation at any NYRA racetrack. Additionally Peter Sherwood was selected as Hearing Officer by NYRA.
The suspension must be approved by a three person panel. That panel is also selected by NYRA. The recommendation mirrors that of Churchill Downs who suspended Bob Baffert from their racetracks for two years. The trainer is currently serving a 90 day suspension imposed by the KHRC for the betamethasone positive on Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby. That suspension is reciprocal between racing jurisdictions so it is nationwide and will end July 2nd. The two year ban by Churchill Downs and NYRA, assuming they “stick” are not reciprocal and only apply the CDI and NYRA racetracks. The Breeders’ Cup is being held at Keeneland in Lexington Kentucky this year so as of now Bob Baffert is eligible to run.
The panel selected by NYRA includes Will Alempijevic, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Humberto Chavez, of the New York Racetrack Chaplaincy, and Saratoga-based attorney John J. Carusone Jr. The panel is not bound to follow the recommendation of Hearing Officer Sherwood, but it appears likely they will.
The following is from Sherwood’s recommendation:
NYRA met its burden with respect to all three of the charges against Baffert. NYRA maintains (and the record shows) that Baffert has engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful conduct that has no parallel in the modern history of Thoroughbred racing. Over a 14-month period, racing regulators in three states found that Baffert violated drug regulations in seven different races. NYRA also proved that each time Baffert was charged with a violation he provided an implausible excuse, and blamed others for conduct that he, as the trainer, was responsible for as a matter of law. NYRA has reasonably concluded that it will not condone Baffert’s reckless practices, outrageous behavior, and substance violations, each of which compromises the integrity of the sport. I conclude that NYRA has reasonably determined that he should be excluded from the racetracks for a lengthy period.”Hearing Officer Peter Sherwood
“NYRA has reasonably concluded that it will not condone Baffert’s reckless practices, outrageous behavior, and substance violations, each of which compromises the integrity of the sport. I conclude that NYRA has reasonably determined that he should be excluded from the racetracks for a lengthy period,” Sherwood continued. “In NYRA’s judgment, imposition of forceful action in response to these violations will serve to reassure racing fans of the integrity of the sport and NYRA’s commitment to protect horses, jockeys, and the betting public. NYRA’s actions will also reassure fans and betters that the industry can and will police itself, take stern action when doping is found and protect horses from mistreatment. In NYRA’s reasonable judgment, a failure to suspend Baffert could result in public scandal and ultimately a decrease in spectatorship, loss of revenues to the State and NYRA’s racetracks, and even a decline of Thoroughbred racing as a sport. I find that NYRA need not continue to suffer Baffert’s defaults and to bear the risk of loss of public confidence. The evidence establishes that Baffert has engaged in conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of Thoroughbred racing in that he has harmed the reputation and integrity of the sport, as well as public’s perception of the sport’s legitimacy. Cruel Intention, Eclair, Charlatan, Gamine, Merneith, and Medina Spirit all had substances in their bloodstreams at prohibited levels on race day. These banned substances had the capacity to affect their performance.”Hearing Officer Peter Sherwood
“NYRA’s actions will also reassure fans and betters that the industry can and will police itself, take stern action when doping is found and protect horses from mistreatment.” That statement was at least one in the recommendation that we found somewhat misleading. What exactly is Peter Sherwood’s definition of “doping”? Additionally, what is his definition of mistreatment? Does anyone think or believe there are not far worse things going on at NYRA racetracks and being done by people allowed to race at NYRA racetracks?
Perhaps there are some people out there who feel this industry can police itself as suggested by Hearing Officer Sherwood. The record shows the industry collectively is an epic fail at self policing. Banning Bob Baffert for two days or two years won’t change that. Scapegoating is not self policing.
Now to why we said the recommendation should be no surprise. Does any of this administrative process sound fair and objective? NYRA institutes the ban. NYRA picks the Hearing Officer. NYRA picks the panel who makes the decision. Similarly, Churchill Downs had one of their own employees making a decision in regard to Bob Baffert. What chance at fairness, impartiality, and objectiveness does anyone in that scenario have? Can anyone have expected the Hearing Officer chosen by NYRA to make a recommendation against NYRA regardless of the facts and evidence? Perhaps, but it would be a long-shot.
That is just my take. We probably could have saved a lot of time and expense.