Having spent much of his career as a front-runner, Bob Baffert is now looking to rally that career by suing for the right to continue racing in New York.
On Monday, he sued the New York Racing Association, which suspended him indefinitely on May 17. The Hall of Fame trainer has been under fire for failed drug tests by his horses, including Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.
Churchill Downs has also barred Baffert from competing until its full investigation of the drug test and results is complete. The length of the investigation is unknown, and it could last months, some say.
Several key tracks, namely Santa Anita and Monmouth Park, are allowing Baffert to continue racing.
His horses have made 17 starts since the NYRA’s suspension — all at Santa Anita — winning seven times, placing second three times and placing third three times.
Not a bad record by any count. However, some bettors have been cautious about wagering on Baffert’s races due to the cloud of doubt that follows him.
“I’m just not going to bet on his races,” said Ted Passante, of Falls Church, Virginia, a regular horse player for the past 30 years. “You just don’t know what the deal is with his horses, so how can you handicap them versus the others? There are plenty of other races to bet.”
Baffert’s Next Races – Friday June 18
Baffert’s next entries are Friday at Santa Anita.
- Race 4 Allowance Optional Claiming – Speed Pass
- Race 9 Allowance Optional Claiming – Hudson Ridge
- Race 10 Allowance – Ax Man and Mastering
There are only five entries listed for Races 4 and 10.
In 2021, Baffert has entered 151 races and finished in the money 98 times (65%), with 45 wins.
It’s not too soon to speculate about whether Baffert will enter Monmouth Park’s premier race, the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes, on July 17. Baffert has won it a record nine times.
“If Bob has a Haskell horse and he wanted to come to Monmouth Park to run in the Haskell, he is welcome,” Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, which operates Monmouth Park, told the Asbury Park Press.
The Haskell is a “win-and-you’re-in” competition for November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in San Diego, with Baffert still allowed to race in his home state of California.
Baffert Claims His Rights Have Been Violated
Baffert’s federal suit on Monday is an attempt to end his indefinite suspension in New York. The trainer, with $321.3 million in lifetime earnings, claims his rights to due process and to participate in New York racing are being violated by the organization.
“NYRA has, without legal authority and without any notice, or opportunity to be heard, attempted to indefinitely suspend Baffert’s trainer’s license issued by the Gaming Commission,” read the complaint, filed in the Eastern District Court of New York, “thereby preventing Baffert from practicing in his chosen profession or using his state issued license on state-owned property.”
The filing also claims that Baffert was suspended as a result of “a media frenzy and the ongoing Kentucky investigation” and said that organization lacks the authority to suspend the trainer.
According to the complaint, only the New York State Gaming Commission has the authority to suspend Baffert.
“NYRA will vigorously defend the action it has taken in this matter,” Patrick McKenna, NYRA communications director, said in a statement.
The suit sought a temporary restraint as well as temporary and permanent injunctions to end the suspension, as well as financial damages to be determined.
A Threat to Public Confidence in the Sport
In addition to the NYRA suspension, Churchill Downs this month issued Baffert a two-year ban that extends through the 2023 season after Medina Spirit’s drug sample splits came back positive from his May 1 victory in the Derby.
Churchill Downs’ ban was due to Baffert’s horses’ repeated drug violations, which they purported “threaten public confidence” in horse racing.
NYRA suspended Baffert from entering horses in races to “protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants following Mr. Baffert’s public acknowledgment that the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid,” according to a statement.
In making the determination to temporarily suspend Baffert, the NYRA took into account the fact that other Baffert-trained horses have failed drug tests in the recent past in Kentucky, California and Arkansas.