Trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs, a result that ultimately could lead to the horse’s disqualification.
Baffert disputed the positive test result of 21 picograms, saying Medina Spirit “has never been treated with betamethasone,” which is an anti-inflammatory drug.
According to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, a second positive test – called a “split sample” – is required before a horse can be disqualified.
Baffert said he didn’t know when the result of the split sample will be available. Marc Guilfoil, executive director of the KHRC, said the positive test result was received Friday.
“During the investigation, both the trainer and owner of the horse will be afforded due process and opportunity to appeal,” Guilfoil said. “Therefore, the KHRC will not provide further comment at this time.”
Churchill Downs confirmed runner-up Mandaloun will be declared the Kentucky Derby winner if the findings of Medina Spirit’s positive test are upheld.
Mandaloun trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native, declined comment.
Though the use of betamethasone is permitted in Kentucky as a therapeutic, any race-day positive is a violation. New rules went into effect last August that replaced a 10-picogram-per-milliliter threshold with the stricter “limit of detection,” a standard triggered by the lowest quantity of a substance that can be confidently distinguished from the absence of that substance.
Baffert called the positive test “a complete injustice,” saying Medina Spirit never has been treated with betamethasone. He said he will conduct his own investigation and comply with the KHRC.
“Yesterday I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something that I didn’t do,” Baffert said. “It’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse.
“I have no idea where it came from. We can’t believe it’s in there.”
“The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so,” the statement reads. “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.”
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Further, the track has suspended Baffert from entering any horses at Churchill Downs, effective immediately.
Baffert said he still plans to enter Medina Spirit in Saturday’s Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore.
“He’s still the Derby winner,” Baffert said, “but we have to go through that process.”
On Sunday afternoon, the Maryland Jockey Club said it is “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.”
The Preakness draw is set for noon Monday.
After Baffert held a news conference Sunday morning at Barn 33 on the Churchill Downs backside, the track issued a statement that it was immediately suspending the trainer from entering horses there.
“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 said in the release. “Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.”
Medina Spirit’s victory gave Baffert his seventh Kentucky Derby win, breaking a tie with Ben Jones for the most by a trainer in the race’s 147-year history.
But the Hall of Fame trainer has spent much of the past year battling state racing commissions and has been fined four times for medication infractions in the past 12 months.
Last month, the Arkansas Racing Commission voted unanimously to lift Baffert’s 15-day suspension and restore the placings of his two horses (Charlatan and Gamine) that tested positive for lidocaine on Arkansas Derby day last year.
It marked the third time in three months Baffert had emerged virtually unscathed in drug cases before state commissions. Previously, the California Horse Racing Board had upheld Justify’s controversial 2018 Santa Anita Derby victory and the KHRC had used its discretion in sparing Baffert a suspension for Gamine’s positive test following last year’s Kentucky Oaks.
Baffert has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
“I do not feel safe to train, and it’s getting worse,” he said. “How do I move forward from this, knowing something like this can happen? It’s a complete injustice. But 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. Our industry needs to step up, and we need to do a better job in racing. …
“I’m not a conspiracy (theorist). Everybody’s not out to get me. But there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening to me? There are problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”
Only once has a Kentucky Derby winner been disqualified because of a drug violation.
In 1968, Dancer’s Image finished first and Forward Pass came in second. But after the discovery of phenylbutazone in a post-race urinalysis of Dancer’s Image, Forward Pass was declared the winner. After nearly four years of litigation, Kentucky’s highest court upheld the KHRC’s decision.
Tim Sullivan contributed to this story. Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.