The horse racing industry will likely need more than 21 mg of betamethasone to get over the pain that recent allegations regarding Medina Spirit’s failed drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby have created.
Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory painkilling medication that is not allowed in Kentucky racing.
The horse’s trainer, Bob Baffert, took to the national television media Monday morning to deny allegations and claim innocence — deflecting blame to the country’s “cancel culture,” a dubious claim in the minds of some.
Late Monday afternoon, Medina arrived at Pimlico to prepare for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico racetrack — the second leg of the Triple Crown. Baffert did not arrive with him, choosing to skip the event in person, saying he didn’t want to create a distraction, especially if his horse wins. Coincidentally, he also has another highly acclaimed horse (Concert Tour) among the expected field of 10 entrants.
Tuesday, the Maryland Jockey Club drew post positions for the race after delaying the draw from Monday to sort things out and “review the facts.” In the interim, Baffert’s attorneys threatened to file an injunction should race officials prohibit the horse from competing.
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs in Louisville has suspended Baffert from competing there — the site of the Kentucky Derby — and said it is running a split sample of the horse’s blood.
“During the investigation, both the trainer and owner of the horse will be afforded due process and opportunity to appeal,” Marc A. Guilfoil, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said. “Therefore, the KHRC will not provide further comment at this time.”
Awaiting word on whether Derby win will be invalidated
Should Medina Spirit — now nicknamed “Med” Spirit by some — again fail the test, his win would be invalidated and runner-up Mandaloun would be declared the winner. It would mark the first time a Louisville-born trainer (Brad Cox) had won the Derby.
The invalidation also would cancel Baffert’s record-setting seventh Derby win, an all-time record he celebrated on Saturday, moving him back into a tie with six. Should Baffert win the Preakness, that, too, would be the most wins all-time in that race.
While much animosity has been pointed at Baffert, who has had five horses fail drug tests in over a year, an ample amount has been directed at the sport’s governing body, or lack thereof. A year ago, when betamethasone was allowed up to 10 mg in Kentucky, a top Baffert horse, Gamine, tested positive for 27 picograms of betamethasone, above the allowed limit. The commonwealth later banned the substance altogether.
At a Sunday morning press conference after news was leaked about the failed test, Baffert said, “I got the biggest gut-punch in racing for something that I didn’t do,” referring to the failed test.
“And it’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse. … I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do our own investigation. We’re going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we’ve always been.”
Horse racing’s governance under fire
Meanwhile, the hits keep coming.
David Aragona, morning line-maker for New York Racing Association tracks and TimeFormUSA, tweeted his personal opinion that “given the chronic lack of transparency in this sport, we may never know the full truth of this situation. But what is clear is that the long-standing lack of meaningful punishments, escalating penalties and coordination in dealing with drug offenses has led us to this point.”
Barry Irwin of the Paulick Report writes, “Arrogance in the case of Baffert is completely understandable. Why wouldn’t he be arrogant? He keeps getting in trouble and he keeps escaping unscathed.”
Fox Sports’ horse racing analyst Andy Serling tweeted on Sunday, “To those that have asked my thoughts on the news … my opinion has always been the same. I have no tolerance for anyone that cheats and/or hurts the game that we love. I also believe firmly in due process. I would like to think we can all agree on that.”
Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde wrote on Sunday, “Bob Baffert has another positive drug test to explain for another one of his top horses, this time Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. At this point, the dog has eaten a semester’s worth of homework.
“Ultimately, this very much seems like the same sad song, different verse, when it comes to drug testing and sports. The denials are always vigorous. They are often fanciful. They are rarely compelling.”
Searching for silver linings
Could the sport benefit in any way from the test? Syndicated thoroughbred handicapper Ellis Starr turned to TV ratings, tweeting: “I predict Preakness television viewership will be strong. It’s no different than people driving by a car accident. More people may tune in to see what happens in the race. Not saying it’s right, wrong, good or bad, but it’s human nature.”