Posted on: March 4, 2022, 11:21h.
Last updated on: March 4, 2022, 11:21h.
Bob Baffert will not have his 90-day suspension stayed as he appeals the ruling stewards made regarding disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. That was the decision of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which met in a special called meeting on Friday to consider Baffert’s request.
Earlier in the week, Baffert and his attorneys went before a judge in Frankfort asking that the suspension be postponed as he challenges the finding Medina Spirit had excessive amounts of betamethasone in his system when the colt finished first in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Friday’s meeting came about from that hearing, but now Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate will hear the case on March 17 to determine if a stay should be issued.
The suspension was supposed to start this Tuesday. However, it will remain in limbo until Wingate makes his ruling, which he is supposed to do within days after the March 17 hearing.
The timing is significant. Because of reciprocity rules, a suspension handed down in one state is recognized in all others. Without a stay, the 90-day ban would make Baffert ineligible to field horses in upcoming Kentucky Derby prep races – some of which are considered major races on their own – as well as the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in racing’s Triple Crown.
In addition to the suspension, Baffert was also fined $7,500. With Medina Spirit subsequently disqualified as the race’s winner, stewards also ruled the Zedan Stables, owners of the late colt, must forfeit the nearly $1.9 million in purse money as well.
Baffert Files Two Suits
With the KHRC decision not to issue a stay, it means that the Hall of Fame thoroughbred trainer now must fight a legal battle on two fronts in order to have a chance to potentially field horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
After Medina Spirit’s initial drug test came back positive, Churchill Downs Inc. announced its own suspension against the trainer. The Louisville-based company banned Baffert for two years not just from its namesake track but all of the company’s racing facilities. Further, Churchill Downs also banned Baffert’s horses from earning any points in Derby prep races.
That punishment has not kept the trainer from entering horses in those races, but it has affected the standings to an extent.
On the day before Baffert had a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court this week, the trainer filed a lawsuit against Churchill Downs Inc. in an effort to get the two-year ban struck down. Baffert claims in the suit he was denied due process, while Churchill Downs called the filing baseless.
At this point, Baffert’s attorneys are looking at the cases optimistically as they have claimed their client has not received a fair shake from either the track or Kentucky regulators. They reacted in disbelief after the commission denied a stay both last week and on Friday.
The saving grace is eventually we will be before an unbiased adjudicator,” Clark Brewster told Casino.org in an email Friday.
Baffert also faces a possible suspension from the New York Racing Association. That operator handed down its own suspension last year after the Churchill Downs ban. However, a federal judge ruled in favor of the trainer last year, saying NYRA failed to give Baffert a chance to defend himself.
NYRA held that hearing in January, and a decision is pending.
“Lance Armstrong of Horse Racing”
Baffert has three horses running in Derby prep races on Saturday. Rockefeller will race in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York, while Doppleganger and Armagnac are scheduled to go in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
While the 3-year-olds get the most attention because of the Kentucky Derby, he does have a large stable of other horses that race primarily out of his California base. Brewster told the KHRC Friday that Baffert has 88 horses and a three-month suspension would be devastating to the trainer’s operation and to the workers under him.
Brewster did not get a sympathetic ear from commission members. Nor did he get one from Marty Irby, executive director for Animal Wellness Action. Irby, who played a significant role in getting the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act passed by Congress, said Baffert is finally “facing the consequences” and that punishing him can be a pivotal moment for the sport.
“Bob Baffert is the Lance Armstrong of horse racing and has riddled the sport with scandal after scandal unchecked for years,” Irby said.