Bob Baffert trained Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit reportedly tests positive for 21 picograms of the legal, commonly used therapeutic medication betamethasone:
Nothing is as it seems in horse racing
Early Sunday morning, slightly a week post the 2021 Kentucky Derby, rumors began flying on social media about two things involving Medina Spirit. The first was jockey agent Ron Anderson, who represents Joel Rosario, who rode Rock Your World, the other speed horse in the Derby who didn’t break while Joel’s left foot was out of the iron, and winner John Velazquez bet 100K on Medina Spirit. I did not believe that and I have my doubts Ron ever wagered 100K on any horse. The other half of that rumor was Bob’s wife Jill also bet 100K on Medina Spirit, or was somehow involved in Ron’s bet. I’m as sure as I can be that is not true.
The other rumor was much more troubling. It was being stated by multiple social media accounts an announcement would be forthcoming regarding Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit testing positive for a banned substance. I hoped it was not true, found it devastating news for the industry, and had a hard time seeing how it would be possible with the protocols and security in place for this year’s Run for the Roses. It didn’t make sense. It was also being said Bob was flying to Kentucky to address the news with his attorney. Part of that I knew first hand was not accurate. I spoke to Bob late Friday afternoon and knew he was already scheduled to fly to Louisville early Saturday morning. At that time he was not aware of any of this.
Before anything had been confirmed or even verified officially, vultures began circling not only Bob Baffert, but anyone connected to him or was not along for the lynch mob ride. I believe in fairness and due process, I believe in rationality but I am an animal lover and advocate, and involved in rescue. For those and those reasons alone I give a pass to some of the vultures in this case. Animal rights activists tend to be quite outspoken, passionate and extreme. Lynch mobs and just haters are another story I won’t even address.
It did not take long for the troubling rumor to be confirmed. Ray Paulick and the Paulick Report carried a news conference live from Bob Baffert’s barn and his attorney was present but Bob did the bulk of the talking and this is what he said:
“All I can tell you is that betamethasone—even though it is an allowed drug, a therapeutic medication, we did not give it. In fact, Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethasone. We’re going to do our own investigation, we’re going to be transparent with the racing commission like we’ve always been. We’re going to show them everything. In California, everything is documented every day, what the horses get. This horse was never treated with that. I’m going to fight it tooth and nail because I owe it to the horse, I owe it to the owner, and I owe it to our industry. Yesterday I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something that I didn’t do. It’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse. I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged.”Bob Baffert May 9th, 2021 Press Conference at Churchill Downs broadcast by the Paulick Report
Bob also said he wanted to do both DNA and hair follicle testing on the horse.
While I was still having a hard time digesting all this, additional facts began to come out. I like to stick to facts, and I know the difference between them, innuendos, opinions, and gibberish. I also do not like to opine in situations like this because I do not have all the facts. This case is a little different though, and this is my column, not a news report so I will offer some thoughts on some issues.
The 2021 Kentucky Derby was run under the strictest of ethical and safety protocols which involved security by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office, 24/7 surveillance, feed and supplement inspection and confiscation if warranted, every drug recorded and everyone in or out of a stall watched, jockeys checked for batteries with wands, but apparently a commonly used therapeutic steroid was given to a horse by a trainer or employee of a trainer who knew the horse would be tested for it, and would come up positive. Jimmy Barnes who was the assistant on site and who was devastated almost to the point of almost retirement after the Gamine and Charlatan incidents last year would have been the boots on the ground for Bob. That seemed odd.
Bob is on record talking about being more careful. Preventing mistakes. He is subject to scrutiny and pre competition testing as much as any trainer in the game. It is certainly not his first rodeo. So he uses something albeit legal and common with a 14 day pre race window on a horse coming in under the radar, while he has a bullseye on his back and a zoom lens pointed at him. That also seems odd to me.
Next I thought how and why would this be on social media following a ridiculous or greatly exaggerated betting rumor if we want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, before the trainer was formerly notified.
I found it odd Jimmy Barnes was served with notice, not Bob. Yes he was the boots on the ground but I am pretty sure Churchill Downs has Bob’s number, and this is the Kentucky Derby. I would think you go right to the trainer himself.
The hits kept coming as they say. Churchill Downs announced they were suspending Bob Baffert and Mandaloun would be declared the winner of the Kentucky Derby if the split sample comes back positive. I am no lawyer. I do believe only the Kentucky Racing Commission can suspend a trainer. Suspensions are generally reciprocal in the United States so if Bob was indeed suspended theoretically he would not be allowed to run horses in other states. What Churchill Downs can do is refuse entries, deny stalls, and ask to vacate the premises. That is not a suspension. That would not be automatically reciprocated by other states and jurisdictions.
The following was released by the Maryland Jockey Club
STATEMENT BY MARYLAND JOCKEY CLUB
“Integrity in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing is the ultimate priority for 1/ST RACING and the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC). 1/ST RACING has been an industry leader instituting processes and protocols that have led to nationwide medication reform and increased accountability. We are committed to achieving the highest level of horse care and safety standards, and we have a proven track record of pushing those standards forward.
“1/ST RACING and MJC intend to review the relevant facts and information relating to the reported medication positive as a result of the post-race blood sample testing completed by Churchill Downs following the 147th Kentucky Derby involving Medina Spirit trained by Bob Baffert. We are consulting with the Maryland Racing Commission and any decision regarding the entry of Medina Spirit in the 146th Preakness Stakes will be made after review of the facts.”
Betamethasone is a commonly used steroidal injection. It is used by many barns in horse racing. Many. I find it odd trainers, stable managers, assistant trainers, barn foreman are calling for Bob’s head on a platter work for barns or themselves use the very same drug. How it metabolizes can vary from horse to horse, and we now test for minuscule amounts, but Bob says Medina Spirit never got it. Some of these industry people might want to put the pitchforks away. Especially if you work for or use the same drug, or employ trainers who do. We are not talking about some super potion or snake venom here.
So if the split sample comes back positive Mandaloun, Juddmonte Farm, and Brad Cox become the 2021 Kentucky Derby winners. This certainly does not help the bettors who needed Mandaloun. Let’s be serious however, this is a serious matter. Medina Spirit ran the race of his life and Mandaloun could not get by him and 21 picograms of betamethasone in all probability had absolutely nothing to do with that.
More importantly who would a Mandaloun escalation to the Derby winner help and hurt? It would certainly hurt Bob Baffert and his team. It would hurt Amr Zedan the Saudi Arabian who purchased the $1000 yearling for 35K. It would hurt Gail Rice, Taylor Rice’s mother and jockey Jose Ortiz’s mother in law who bred the colt.
It would surely help Brad Cox a Churchill Downs win machine who grew up in close proximately to the racetrack and is what I would refer to as a favorite son. Brad Cox is often looked at as skeptically as Bob Baffert is due to some of his wins and percentages, and drastic improvement of Knicks Go and others. Suddenly all his haters and accusers are rooting him home as the choirboy of the puzzle.
It would help Juddmonte Farm, a large Kentucky Derby operation who so many were rooting for after its founder passed away, who was also a Saudi Arabian, but a much larger investor in American breeding than Amr Zedan is.
It would help Churchill Downs Inc, a publicly traded company who is all about the money and makes no attempt to conceal that. They have to be, they answer to shareholders, not the industry, owners, or bettors, their customers. I have to think they love the story of Brad Cox growing up within walking distance of the gates winning the Kentucky Derby. There is just one problem. Mandaloun did not finish first, and that has zero to do with 21 picograms of betamethasone. They want that story, but not like Country House, we take what we can get I guess.
Does anyone think the commercial Kentucky breeding industry would like to see Protonico a Derby winning sire? Probably as much as I’ll Have Another.
I am not here to be Bob Baffert’s lawyer. We know he can do a lot better than me. I do like to keep things real and in perspective. I also like to be fair, and I know first hand what it is like to have a bullseye on your back. My whole life I have called it as I see it. That is not about to change at this stage of the game for me. I don’t know how or if Medina Spirit ran on 21 picograms of betamethasone, I wasn’t there. I do know, as our stewards love to say it, did not affect the outcome or chance of a better placing. I do know Bob is not a fool who would jeopardize what he has worked tirelessly for 24/7 for years with the only off time I am aware of spent recuperating from a heart attack, by doing something so ridiculous with any horse let alone one he didn’t even expect to win.
I deplore cheating in horse racing. I think cheaters rob us all, owners, breeders, and of course bettors. I am for 24/7 surveillance of every stall, centralized pharmacies, one governing body, zero tolerance of any cheating, doping, or race fixing. What we have here is not that. I don’t know what it is yet, but at some point I will and I will respond appropriately. I ignore and mute a lot of social media of late. Some things I do see. I think Chance Moquett hit it spot on with this tweet.
When you look into a room from outside the room, you only see part of what is inside. You have to walk in to see it all. Nothing is what it seems.
Photo: Coady Photography