There’s been plenty of dirt flying — and not on the race track — since the New York Racing Association (NYRA) temporarily banned trainer Bob Baffert on May 17. This came in the three weeks leading up to the Triple Crown’s Belmont Stakes.
The ban stemmed from multiple failed drug tests by his horses, most significantly his Kentucky Derby-winning horse Medina Spirit, who failed a test days after he was declared the winner at Churchill Downs. That horse tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone. As of this writing, Churchill Downs is continuing its investigation into the violation.
Baffert’s legal team files memorandum
Baffert’s attorneys filed a 44-page memorandum of rebuttal on July 7 claiming the NYRA had no grounds by which it could suspend him. The comments were first reported by Bloodhorse on July 8.
This filing is in response to arguments submitted June 30 to the US District Court, Eastern District of New York, by the NYRA and The Jockey Club defending the racing association’s decision May 17 to block Baffert from getting stalls or entering horses at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course or Aqueduct Racetrack.
Baffert’s memorandum uses the argument that the ban is illegal and inequitable. It reads:
“Nowhere in NYRA’s response is there any contention that Baffert has violated any New York statute or racing rule. In fact, the opposite is true. Despite his distinguished New York racing career, without even a hint of wrongdoing, NYRA believes it has free reign to unilaterally void his constitutional protected property rights and ban him from all activity in New York without notice and for an indefinite period of time based solely on unproven allegations of a minor infraction (an overage of an allowable medication) in another jurisdiction.”
Continuing, the memorandum states that Baffert deserves to have the ban lifted based on two legal grounds: He was not afforded any due process and had no opportunity to be heard before the NYRA took its action, and the NYRA does not have the authority to suspend Baffert’s license because that authority rests with the New York Racing Commission.
NYRA fires back
The NYRA in its earlier response said its action was justifiable considering Baffert’s multiple medication violations — he’s had five within the past year — and a responsibility to protect the integrity of its racing product.
“Allowing Baffert to enter horses in races and stable horses at the racetracks threatened the reputation of the Belmont Stakes and NYRA,” stated NYRA CEO and president David O’Rourke in the association’s response. “Baffert did not then have any horses entered in races or stabled at the racetracks. However, with the running of the Belmont on June 5 fast approaching, NYRA needed to act swiftly and resolutely, because it was possible, if not likely, that Baffert might seek to enter Medina Spirit in that race.”
The NYRA argues that its move was largely for economic reasons for its track and the sport.
“The failure to take swift and decisive action, unencumbered by the delay of a formal trial-type hearing (such as Baffert claims he was entitled), could also result in public scandal and ultimately a decrease in spectatorship, a substantial loss of revenues to the state and the racetrack, and even the potential decline of thoroughbred racing in general as a sport, with consequent loss of jobs and investments,” the NYRA stated.
The next step in the process is a hearing scheduled for July 12.
Baffert continues to race elsewhere, namely, California, where he had seven horses race at Los Alamitos the past week, placing first three times, placing second three times and claiming one fifth-place finish. Among his wins were triumphs in one Grade 1 and one Grade 2 race.