Posted on: March 2, 2022, 12:01h.
Last updated on: March 2, 2022, 12:01h.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will meet on Friday to determine whether or not to grant a stay on a 90-day suspension stewards handed down to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in the wake of their ruling that disqualified Medina Spirit as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
The news comes as Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate scheduled a hearing for March 17 to consider Baffert’s request for a stay. Baffert asked KHRC last week to hold off on enforcing the suspension, which would bar him from entering horses nationwide, as he appeals the stewards’ decision after drug tests revealed Medina Spirit had excessive amounts of betamethasone in his system at the time he won the Derby last year at Churchill Downs.
The commission initially denied the stay, which prompted Baffert lawyer W. Craig Robertson to go before Wingate on Wednesday.
The Judge’s ruling gives the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission one more opportunity to do the right thing and stay enforcement of the penalty provisions of the Stewards Ruling until the appeal of that ruling is heard and decided,” Robertson said in a statement to Casino.org Wednesday afternoon.
Robertson noted that the commission’s precedent has been to issue stays on suspensions pending appeal. If they continue to deny the stay, Baffert’s suspension would begin on March 8 and run through June 5.
“However, if they refuse to do so in this case, we will be right back before the Judge on March 17,” Baffert’s counsel said.
Baffert was also fined $7,500 for the violation, his fourth in US racing in the past year.
What’s at Stake for Baffert?
Regardless of the commission or a judge issue a stay, the KHRC would be the first level in Baffert’s appeal process. If the commission were to uphold the stewards’ ruling, the trainer could then continue his appeal in the state courts.
Without a stay, Baffert would not be able to enter horses in his name at any US track. The suspension period would cover the major Kentucky Derby prep races and the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in racing’s Triple Crown.
As of now, Baffert is already banned from entering horses at Churchill Downs and its sister tracks for two years, as the Louisville-based company announced the suspension after news broke Medina Spirit last year. The move also means none of Baffert’s stable of horses – which includes several of the top 3-year-olds in the country – are currently eligible to earn points in Kentucky Derby prep races.
Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Churchill
On Tuesday, Clark Brewster, another Baffert attorney, filed a federal lawsuit in Louisville against Churchill Downs, seeking to overturn the company’s ban. The suit also named CEO Bill Carstanjen and Board Chair Alex Rankin as parties.
Similar to a lawsuit Baffert filed last year against the New York Racing Association, the trainer claims Churchill Downs violated his rights to due process.
Brewster had previously indicated his client was considering a federal lawsuit in an effort to get his horses eligible to run in this year’s Derby.
“We look forward to showing the court that this selective and arbitrary ban by Churchill Downs, Mr. Carstanjen, and Mr. Rankin is unlawful and unfair – and to ensuring Bob can get back to the winner’s circle in May,” Brewster said in the release.
A New York federal judge did rule in favor for Baffert last year and found that the organization that operates racing at three New York tracks did not give the trainer a fair hearing before issuing its ban against him.
NYRA, in response, held a hearing in January. A decision on that matter is pending.
In its statement, Churchill Downs Inc. said it did not find Baffert’s suit surprising. However, the company expressed disappointment and also called the trainer’s claims meritless.
“These actions have harmed the reputations of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs and the entire Thoroughbred racing industry,” the statement said. “Churchill Downs will fight this baseless lawsuit and defend our company’s rights. What’s at stake here is the integrity of our races, the safety of horses and the trust of the millions of fans and bettors who join us every year on the first Saturday in May.”
Injection vs. Ointment – Is There a Difference?
As the testing process carried on last year, Baffert and his attorneys pointed to the fact that the version of betamethasone found in Medina Spirit came from an ointment a veterinarian used on the horse to treat a skin condition.
They claimed that version of the drug was not the same as what was listed in racing’s drug guidelines, which they pointed out talked about injections that took place no less than 14 days before a race.
The amount of betamethasone found in Medina Spirit’s system was 21 picograms per milliliter of blood. That’s more than twice the legal limit.
In handing down the disqualification and sanctions against Baffert, racing stewards did not note any difference between the injectable version of the drug and the version found in the ointment.
Medina Spirit continued to race through his 3-year-old campaign last year. In December, a month after running second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the colt collapsed and died after a training session at Santa Anita Park.