Kentucky Disqualifies Medina Spirit, Hands Baffert A Fine And 90-Day Suspension

Written By Paul Bergeron on February 22, 2022 - Last Updated on March 1, 2022
Bob Baffert at Churchill Downs

Some of the most hopeful horse racing connections looking to find their way into the winner’s circle at the 2022 Kentucky Derby might now have to seek a new trainer as they prepare for the first Saturday in May.

Medina Spirit’s disqualification seen as inevitable

The state’s stewards disqualified Medina Spirit as the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. However, many saw the move as an inevitability. His trainer, Bob Baffert, was fined $7,500 and given a 90-day suspension beginning March 8 and ending June 5.

Because racing jurisdictions routinely honor suspensions from other states, that would cover the entire Triple Crown series in Kentucky, Maryland and New York, Horse Racing Nation and others reported.

Expect Baffert to appeal the decision, but will it be in time for the Derby?

Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, promised an immediate appeal, which could set aside that part of the penalty and begin a further monthslong case. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will appoint a hearing officer to oversee the case.

“Some type of general schedule will be put in place that will allow the parties to engage in some discovery, exchange documents [and] take some depositions, with the goal of an ultimate hearing in front of that hearing officer sometime down the road,” Robertson said, as reported by Horse Racing Nation and others. “My guess is several months down the road.”

DRF reported Monday that “in the event of an appeal, the racing commission almost always stays the penalty. If not, the suspension would start on March 8 and run through June 5.

“An appeal would be heard by a hearing officer appointed by the KHRC. The hearing officer then issues a report to the full commission, which can accept or reject the recommendations of the report. Any rulings by the commission can be appealed in Kentucky state circuit court.”

Baffert and his attorneys have argued that the horse tested positive due to using an ointment containing betamethasone to treat a skin condition. Kentucky’s regulations on betamethasone only apply to injections of the drug in joints.

There is also the matter of the two-year ban that Churchill Downs Inc. imposed on Baffert and his stable, keeping him from qualifying his horses for this year’s Kentucky Derby and Oaks. Baffert will likely appeal that, too. His Oklahoma-based attorney, Clark Brewster, will handle the matter. He was unavailable for comment Monday afternoon.

Group of bettors sues Churchill Downs

Mandaloun is now the official winner of the 2021 Derby, giving trainer Brad Cox his first win in the race. A Monday statement from Churchill Downs Inc. congratulated Mandaloun.

Monday’s decision also spurred a new lawsuit against Baffert and Churchill Downs Inc. by a group of bettors alleging damages after the late Medina Spirit was disqualified from his Derby win.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed in federal court in May. However, in September, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the suit.

The group of bettors, led by Anthony Mattera, seek to be paid for pari-mutuel wagers lost when Medina Spirit won the race. However, the Kentucky stewards’ ruling noted that the disqualification did not impact betting outcomes.

A failed post-race drug test has overturned a Derby victory only once before. In 1968, Dancer’s Image was disqualified after testing positive for phenylbutazone, or “bute.” After years of litigation, the decision held up, making Forward Pass the winner.

Medina Spirit led the entire way in the May 1 race to give Baffert a record seventh Kentucky Derby win. Eight days later, Baffert announced that the Protonico colt had tested positive for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory banned on race day in Kentucky.

Who’s still in Baffert’s barn?

Messier is among the leading contenders from the Baffert barn. He romped to a stakes-record 15-length win in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. In addition, he earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure, tops among 3-years-olds. However, Messier did not earn any Kentucky Derby qualifying points given Baffert’s status with Churchill Downs.

Another standout horse from Baffert’s barn is Corniche, who is 3-for-3 with two G1 wins. Grade 3 Southwest winner Newgrange is another one to watch from Baffert. He figures to go off as the favorite in Saturday’s Grade 2 Derby prep, the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.

This week’s news comes two months after Medina Spirit died of a suspected heart attack following a workout at Santa Anita in December. According to the track and the California Horse Racing Board, a necropsy was performed to determine the cause of death. Unfortunately, when released to the public on Friday, the postmortem noted no certain cause of death.

Photo by AP | Charlie Riedel
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