On Sunday morning, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert announced during a press conference at Churchill Downs that his Derby-winning horse Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug.
Baffert said a post-race test following Medina Spirit’s win in the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs revealed 21 picograms of betamethasone.
According to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, a second positive test — called a “split sample” — is required before a horse can be disqualified.
Since the announcement, there have been many questions about Medina Spirit and Bob Baffert’s future. Here’s what you need to know:
So what exactly is betamethasone used for in horses?
Betamethasone is a corticosteroid, meaning it’s a man-made steroid that resembles cortisol, a natural hormone produced by the adrenal gland.
The drug, and other corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone and prednisone, suppress inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Such drugs can additionally suppress the immune system.
Corticosteroid drugs administered into joints can provide relief from discomfort for horses, according to Kentucky Equine Research.
Maximum Security was disqualified from winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby for dangerously impeding the paths of others, but the last time a horse was dethroned for a prohibited substance was Dancer’s Image in 1968.
A mandatory post-race urine test revealed phenylbutazone, a non-steroid inflammatory medication used to decrease pain. Because it was not considered performance-enhancing, “bute” was allowed at many race tracks at the time — but not Churchill Downs.
Testing determined the drug persisted, and Dancer’s Image, which went from last place to first in the race, was stripped of the Derby title and dropped to 14th place by stewards.
PREAKNESS? What positive drug test means for next race
Churchill Downs has suspended trainer Bob Baffert from entering horses at the track after Sunday’s announcement that Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone following his victory in the May 1 Kentucky Derby.
“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,” Churchill Downs said Sunday in a news release. “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.”
Churchill Downs said it “will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation before taking further steps” regarding Baffert’s suspension.
BAFFERT: Churchill Downs suspends trainer
Medina Spirit’s failed test for betamethasone was the fifth known drug positive in Baffert’s barn in a span of 12 months and at least the 31st of his Hall of Fame career, said Courier Journal columnist Tim Sullivan.
Churchill Downs issued a strong statement after Baffert’s filly, Gamine tested positive for betamethasone after last September’s Kentucky Oaks. But Sunday’s suspension is the most significant sanction Baffert has received during a four-year stretch in which his horses have tested positive following four of America’s most prominent races: the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, the Arkansas Derby and the Santa Anita Derby.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” Baffert said Sunday at Churchill Downs. “I know everybody’s not out to get me, but there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening to me? There’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”
Bad news for those hoping to make back the money lost betting on Baffert’s horse.
Even if Medina Spirit is ultimately disqualified — something that can only happen after a second positive test — pari-mutuel wagering is unlikely to be affected, according to Courier Journal reporter Jon Hale.
The last time a Kentucky Derby winner was disqualified for a positive drug test (Dancer’s Image, 1968), the Kentucky Horse Racing commission ordered then-runner up, Forward Pass be considered the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, except for pari-mutuel payoffs.
While Churchill Downs confirmed Mandaloun, the horse that finished second in the 2021 Derby, will be declared the winner of the race if the findings of Medina Spirit’s positive test are upheld by the split sample test, anyone who bet on Mandaloun to win is unlikely to be able to cash it in if Medina Spirit is disqualified.