Churchill Downs has suspended Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert following the positive test result for 21 picograms of Betamethasone. (For more information on this anti-inflammatory joint injection, we refer you to Valerie Mellema's article: Medina Spirit Tests Positive for Betamethasone.)
"To be clear, if the findings are upheld, MEDINA SPIRIT's results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and MANDALOUN will be declared the winner," Churchill Downs said in an official statement.
"Churchill Downs will not tolerate it. Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of MEDINA SPIRIT, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack."
This stirs the Triple Crown series plot, to say the least. MEDINA SPIRIT is still the declared winner of the Kentucky Derby, and is pointed to this Saturday's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. If the accusations hold up and MEDINA SPIRIT is stripped of the Roses, then the second place finisher MANDALOUN would inherit the victory. Should MANDALOUN, then, compete in the Preakness Stakes anyway, for a chance at the Triple Crown?
Until then, MEDINA SPIRIT is scheduled to make his appearance at Baltimore, unless the Pimlico Board or Maryland Jockey Club oppose it. Their present attitude toward the recent headlines can be gleaned from their own statement published on their website yesterday.
"Integrity in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing is the ultimate priority for 1/ST RACING and the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC). 1/ST RACING has been an industry leader instituting processes and protocols that have led to nationwide medication reform and increased accountability. We are committed to achieving the highest level of horse care and safety standards, and we have a proven track record of pushing those standards forward.
"1/ST RACING and MJC intend to review the relevant facts and information relating to the reported medication positive as a result of the post-race blood sample testing completed by Churchill Downs following the 147th Kentucky Derby involving Medina Spirit trained by Bob Baffert. We are consulting with the Maryland Racing Commission and any decision regarding the entry of Medina Spirit in the 146thPreakness Stakes will be made after review of the facts." Maryland Jockey Club said in a statement.
With the Preakness Stakes just six days away, it was reported that MEDINA SPIRIT and his stablemates will be vanned to Pimlico, but the Hall of Famer trainer will not.
"No. Only horses." was Bafferts reply via Text Message when asked if he would be coming to Baltimore to seek his eighth and record-breaking win.
"People are still trying to talk me into going," he said. "I don't know. I've got until (Tuesday) when I've got my flight. So I don't know." (Ron Flatter, HRN)
As the media swirls over the allegations, Bob Baffert wasted no time protecting his legacy. This morning, he appeared on the Fox News Show, "America's Newsroom", denying the accusations and setting the record clear.
"We Did Not Cheat." Baffert said.
"What's happening is they're testing at these picogram levels," Baffert said. "America doesn't know about picograms. It's like a salt grain in an Olympic size pool. He had 21 picograms, which has no effect at all. The thing is, a few years ago this never would have been called. In California, they never would have called this a positive. They shouldn't have called it a positive. We're living in a new world. These horses don't live in a bubble. They are out in the open, people are touching them. After the Derby, everybody was up there touching him. There are so many ways these horses can get contaminated. They're testing at these ridiculously low levels. I've been saying for over a year now, this is going to get innocent people in trouble. This is what has happened now."
"This did not happen," he said. "This horse has never been treated with that. Actually, it's a legal therapeutic medicine and the amount (found in the post-race drug test) wouldn't have any effect on the horse anyway. That horse was never treated with that and so that's the disturbing part of it. I never thought I'd have to be fighting for my reputation and this poor horse's reputation because of the new regulations. They are testing these horses at contaminated levels. It's been a horrible experience."
Trainer Bob Baffert was involved in a similar case in 2018, when his Triple Crown Winner JUSTIFY tested positive for the anti-nausea drug scopolamine. Baffert was accused of cheating, but upon further investigation, it was ruled a false accusation, and his innocence was proven.
The cause of the 2018 positive test was "innocent, environmental contamination from hay", and was not the case of any "administration of any drug or medication." Moreover, the trace level effects of the scopaline had no effect on the performance of these horses and no effect on the races. The entire case was dismissed. (Read more about it here.)
In an effort to raise security levels against the aforementioned risks, Churchill Downs has beefed up their protocols and surveillance mechanisms.
For example, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) conducts out-of-competition blood samples for horses competing in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, even before entries are determined, and then they're sent to labs for immediate testing.
The Churchill Downs veterinarian protocols have tightened all the same. All Treatments given to any horse on the grounds must be submitted to the KHRC Chief Vet within 24 hours of administration. A log is kept of all practicing veterinarians, and their treatments are monitored by security personnel. There's a strict rule of no medications permitted within 24 hours of the race. If there's an emergency, the Stewards can be called to authorize treatment but the horse would have to be scratched.
If Bob Baffert, or anyone from his team, had administered the drug, it is likely to be detected by these increased protocols. Bob Baffert has stated in his news conference that he'll be calling for his own investigation.
"We're going to have them look at his sample again. There's a lot of things we're going to be doing."
Source: Ron Flatter, Horse Racing Nation, Maryland Jockey Club, , PastTheWire, Bin Finley, ThoroughbredDailyNews, New York Post