Trainer Bob Baffert just won a victory in the court of law. So we may very well be seeing him in the winner’s circle at Saratoga this summer.
The seven-week meet at the prestigious and storied race track in upstate New York opened Thursday. This comes one day after a federal District Court judge sitting in New York ruled that the New York Racing Association (NYRA)’s ban of the controversial Hall of Fame trainer should be stayed.
Baffert was temporarily suspended on May 17, in the two weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes at NYRA’s Belmont Park, after acknowledging and taking responsibility for his Kentucky Derby-winning horse Medina Spirit testing positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone in his post-race sample.
Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York stated that Baffert’s rights to due process had been violated, and therefore the suspension was unconstitutional.
The ruling allows Baffert to start horses at the meet, barring any official suspensions he is issued in any jurisdiction, DRF and others reported on Wednesday.
In the ruling, Amon wrote that Baffert was entitled to a hearing before the suspension was issued, “having an undisputed property interest in his licensed right to race horses in New York.”
NYRA chief executive David O’Rourke said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling was issued that the association “is reviewing the court’s decision today to determine our legal options and next steps. What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert’s actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate control over his operation.”
Baffert Races Sparingly at Saratoga
Baffert has continued to race regularly in California and does not regularly base horses in New York.
Baffert’s history shows that he frequently targets stakes races at Saratoga for some of his top-class runners. Saratoga’s lucrative season runs through Sept. 6 and features multiple graded stakes races each week, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays.
The process for entering horses is as follows: The track issues a condition book, which shows all of the upcoming races it plans to run. This includes the closing date for trainers to submit entries for each race.
A typical race may close entries five days prior to the race. So it is too late for Baffert to enter horses at Saratoga for this weekend. Next week, he could.
Regular long-time horseplayer Mike Koblenz, of Arlington, Virginia, said, “From a handicapping perspective, I will slightly downgrade Baffert’s horses at Saratoga and look to bet against him. He has great numbers historically at Saratoga, but he will be under such scrutiny from NYRA, from fans and maybe his owners. He can’t be successful, can he? Maybe. He is Bob Baffert. But I’ll be trying to beat him.”
Its highly anticipated Travers Stakes is Aug. 28 and is the highlight of the seven-week schedule. Last year, Baffert entered eight horses and won twice and placed second twice. The year prior, he raced only twice, winning once.
He is eligible to race this summer at Monmouth Park but does not have an entry in Saturday’s Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth — a race his horses have come to dominate in recent years.
He remains suspended from racing at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, a decision also based on the failed drug test following the Kentucky Derby.
Owners Jumping Off Baffert Horses
Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, had argued before the court that several clients are “contemplating removing horses from Baffert’s care due to the NYRA ban, in addition to the handful of horses that have already been transferred from his barn to New York trainers,” reported DRF.
Amon did write that she believed that the NYRA may have the ultimate authority to exclude Baffert, as long as the association took the steps to afford him his due-process rights. Attorneys for the NYRA told Amon during the hearing this week that they planned to issue a decision on the length and terms of the ban after a meeting on Aug. 11, according to DRF.
“In sum, it is not likely that Baffert will be able to prevail on his claim that the NYRA had no legal authority to take the action that it did,” Amon wrote.