September 28, 2023

Medina Spirit tests positive after Kentucky Derby; Churchill suspends Baffert

Medina Spirit, with John Velazquez up, wins the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs (Photography by Jamie Newell/TwinSpires)

Medina Spirit returned a positive test for betamethasone after wiring the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1), trainer Bob Baffert revealed at a Sunday morning press conference in his Churchill Downs barn. A couple of hours later, Churchill officials announced that Baffert horses would not be allowed to race at the track.

Baffert first learned of the result Saturday afternoon from assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, who was served by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Rumors swirled on the backstretch, and once Baffert arrived from his California base, he wanted to go public with the news.

Medina Spirit’s postrace test was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone, a corticosteroid that is used therapeutically as an anti-inflammatory. Baffert’s champion filly Gamine had tested positive for 27 picograms of the same medication in last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1), necessitating her disqualification from third. Last fall, Baffert’s attorney, W. Craig Robertson, stated that Gamine had been given betamethasone 18 days ahead of the Oaks, more than the recommended 14-day withdrawal period.

But unlike the case with Gamine, Baffert insisted that Medina Spirit had never been treated with betamethasone. His veterinary records have been turned over to the racing commission.

In addition to the usual split-sample going forward for a separate test, Baffert said that he’s requested DNA testing to prove that the sample came from Medina Spirit. The colt’s hair will be also be examined, and the out-of-competition testing he’d undergone April 18 will be reviewed as well.

“Yesterday, I got the biggest gut punch in racing, for something that I didn’t do,” Baffert said. “It’s disturbing, and it’s an injustice to the horse….

“I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do a complete, our own, investigation. We’re going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we’ve always been.”

Medina Spirit gave Baffert a record-breaking seventh Derby victory. The Hall of Famer said he doesn’t want the colt’s achievement unfairly tarnished.

“He’s a great horse. He doesn’t deserve this. He ran a gallant race.”

Baffert went on to express concern about the low thresholds that trigger positive tests, an allusion to a few of his high-profile runners who have been flagged. Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown champion, tested positive for scopolamine after the Santa Anita Derby (G1) according to much later reporting. The California Horse Racing Board ruled it was environmental contamination. Charlatan was initially stripped of his win in a division of the 2020 Arkansas Derby (G1) after lidocaine was detected, and only recently reinstated as the winner.

“Just imagine yourselves going to work every day, and if they tested you every day for these levels, these contamination levels, and they told you if you tested positive, you were going to be fired, that’s the way I feel. I do not feel safe to train…

“It’s a complete injustice. I’m going to fight it tooth and nail. I owe it to the horse, I owe it to the owner (Amr Zedan of Zedan Stables), and I owe it to our industry.”

Should the postrace test result be verified, Medina Spirit would be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun awarded the Derby trophy. The only Derby winner demoted for a medication positive was Dancer’s Image in 1968, resulting in the elevation of Forward Pass.

Churchill Downs released the following statement, including notice of Baffert’s immediate suspension:

“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols. The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so. To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.

“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 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.”

Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour are expected in Saturday’s Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico, a track operated by The Stronach Group’s 1/ST Racing. According to a Maryland Jockey Club statement issued midafternoon Sunday, the matter is currently under review:

“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.”