Bob Baffert, coach of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, stands near the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on April 28, 2021.
Bryan Woolston | Reuters
“Mr. Baffert’s record of test failure threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby,” said the CEO.
“In light of these repeated failures over the past year, including the increasingly extraordinary declarations, we firmly believe that it is our duty and responsibility to enforce our right to enforce these measures.”
Churchill Downs Inc. said it reserved the right to extend Baffert’s suspension “if there are further violations in a racing jurisdiction”.
Baffert announced on May 9 that Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a steroid used for therapeutic purposes in horses, in a sample taken on the day of his Derby victory a week earlier. Baffert said 21 picograms of the drug were found in the sample.
The drug, usually used to treat pain and swelling in a horse’s joints, is legal in Kentucky.
But any trace of it on race day in the state is a reason for disqualification if a second test confirms it was in the blood that day.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the owner of Medina Spirit, Amr Zedan, and Baffert announced that the second test of a blood sample had also found betamethasone.
Clark Brewster, Zedan’s attorney, told CNBC that officials are allowing the Medina Spirit team to have a third sample from the horse analyzed by another laboratory.
That test, Brewster said, could determine if there are any chemicals that would support Baffert’s claim that the betamethasone may have come from a topical ointment called Otomax rather than an injection.
Brewster found that a picogram is only a trillionth of a gram.
“Hopefully they’ll make a reasonable judgment,” Brewster said, referring to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s review of drug test results.
“I think there will be consensus that this is a negligible amount that cannot have affected the race,” said the lawyer.
Animal Wellness Action advocacy executive Marty Irby said in a statement that Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Down was a “quick and sensible action … the nation should consider a greater penalty for the trainer.”
“He is mocked over and over again about weak penalties for doping violations,” said Irby. “Baffert will only get the news with a long-term suspension from the sport.
“On the other hand, it is comforting to know that Baffert will not be allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby until the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act – which prohibits race day doping in the sport – is implemented and has become fully effective.”
Maryland race officials allowed Medina Spirit and another Baffert-trained horse, Concert Tour, to participate in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore in May after receiving a “mandatory commitment” from Baffert for “full transparency of medical and test results that will allow “All results received will be made available to the public.”
Medina Spirit was third in Preakness, the second stage of the Triple Crown, behind the winner Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon. Concert tour took ninth place.
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC and NBC Sports, which broadcast the Triple Crown races.