The 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a drug test after the race. He has re-shaped a sport plagued by doping problems and put the most famous personality in thoroughbred horse racing, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, to an unpleasant test.
If disqualified, Medina Spirit will be deprived of its Derby title and prize money and will only be the third horse in the race’s 147-year history to receive such a penalty after finishing first. The colt can only be disqualified if a second sample, taken at the same time as the first, confirms the result in a test expected in the coming weeks. Mr. Baffert then has the opportunity to appeal.
The positive test comes as a horse race recognizing that there is a drug problem and preparing for the test to be implemented Horseracing Integrity and Safety Actthat was passed in Congress last year. Effective July 1, 2022, it calls on a body overseen by the Federal Trade Commission to enact rules and penalties to be enforced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
The agency that regulates Olympic and other elite athletes in the United States, exposed cyclist Lance Armstrong’s scam and granted him a lifetime ban in 2012.
In a statement, officials at Churchill Downs, the Louisville, Kentucky circuit, said that the derby runner-up, Mandaloun, would be declared the winner if Medina Spirit’s positive test was confirmed.
On Sunday, Churchill Downs officials prevented Mr. Baffert from entering other horses there. It is unclear how long the suspension will last or how this will affect his standing in the sport. Officials said they would await the results of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation “before taking any further action regarding Mr. Baffert’s suspension”.
The drug in Medina Spirit’s system was betamethasone, a corticosteroid that was injected into joints to relieve pain and swelling. At a press conference on Sunday morning outside his barn in Churchill Downs, Mr. Baffert said neither he nor anyone else on his team had administered the drug to Medina Spirit. He insisted that the colt had not been treated with it.
He said he intends to direct Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown of racing, in Baltimore on Saturday. Preakness officials said they would make a decision on the stallion’s suitability after verifying the facts.
“I was totally shocked when I heard this news,” he said. “I am the most studied coach. And I agree with that. The last thing I want to do is do something that would jeopardize the greatest sport. I am worried about sports. This is a pretty serious allegation. We’ll get to the bottom of this. We didn’t do it.
“There are problems in racing. But it’s not Bob Baffert. “
Horse racing in the United States has long had a culture of drug and lax regulation and a far higher rate of horses breakdown and euthanasia than most other parts of the world.
Trainers experiment with anything that can give their horses an advantage, including chemicals pigs and cattle accumulate before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants, and cancer drugs. Detection is difficult as laboratories try to keep up.
Common drugs like the anti-inflammatory agent in Medina Spirit pose the greatest risk to horse and rider. At higher levels, pain medicine can mask injuries, making preliminary examinations less effective. If a horse can’t feel pain, it may run harder than usual, adding to the strain on the injury.
The new law had been in the works for decades. Many athletes urged Congress to create a central agency with uniform rules and meaningful penalties as profitability fell and they worried about public confidence in the sport. At the moment, each of the 38 states that allow horse racing regulate the sport with a variety of rules.
Harsh punishments are rare. In 2011, another well-known coach, Rick Dutrow, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Big Brown in 2008, was punished for doping violations similar to Mr. Baffert’s. He was banned from racing in the United States for 10 years.
The Jockey Club, a leading industry organization that helped enforce the new law, said in a statement that the report on Medina “worried” Spirit.
“Bettors and fans must have unwavering confidence in the integrity of the sport,” the statement said.
With the victory of Medina Spirit on May 1st, Mr. Baffert won his seventh Kentucky Derby, beating a record set by Ben Jones, who collected his rose covers in 1938, 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949 and 1952.
At odds of 12 to 1, Medina Spirit was a surprising winner of America’s most famous race. The colt sold for just $ 1,000 as a yearling and was a steal of $ 35,000 for its current owner, Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia.
The foal’s positive test contributes to this the questions around Mr. Baffert. Arkansas regulators last month upheld the decision that a banned substance had been found on two of his horses, but decided to reduce his sentence from suspension to fine.
Medina Spirit tested positive for the same substance found in Mr. Baffert’s Gamine last year after the horse finished third in the Kentucky Oaks, a showcase for 3-year-old fillies held the day before the Churchill Downs derby had occupied. Gamine was disqualified and her owners were denied the $ 120,000 purse for her third place finish. Mr. Baffert was fined $ 1,500.
For Mr Zedan, the $ 1.8 million derby check to be given to the owners of Mandaloun is at stake. However, Bettors who backed Medina Spirit would keep their winnings while supporters of Mandaloun would lose tickets.
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officials did not respond to calls and emails to comment.
Mr Baffert has won the enmity of rivals who believe he persisted in cheating, suspicion fueled by 30 drug tests that failed his horses for over four decades, five of them in the last year or so.
The cases took months, if not years, to settle, and for the most part punished with modest fines or brief suspensions, as Mr Baffert claimed he had done nothing wrong and blamed pollution or human error for the results. Even so, owners with deep pockets flock to Mr. Baffert’s stable.
In 2019 The New York Times reported that JustifyThe drug test, also trained by Mr. Baffert, failed a drug test after winning the 2018 Santa Anita Derby in Southern California. The rule at the time provided that Justify had to be disqualified, forfeited his prize money and prevented his entry into the Kentucky Derby a month later.
The then chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, Chuck Winner, had asked Mr. Baffert to train his horses. Justify’s failed test was investigated for four months so that the horse could compete long enough not to just win the derby, but also the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. His postrace tests were clean in all three cases.
In August 2018, after Justify’s breeding rights were sold for $ 60 million, the racing committee’s medical director suggested that the illegal substance may have been present in a Jimsonweed eaten by the horse. The board of directors completely dismissed the investigation during a rare closed session.
If Medina Spirit is disqualified, Mr. Baffert and the colt will switch to Maximum Security and Dancer’s Image as the only horses whose derby wins have been voided.
In 2019, Maximum Security was the first to cross the finish line, only to be disqualified for nearly knocking over a competing horse in the distant curve and slow down the dynamics of others. The next year Maximum Security coach Jason Servis was among them 27 people charged by federal prosecutors in a far-reaching system to secretly doping horses and defrauding the betting public.
In 1968, the victory was taken away from Dancer’s image after a drug test revealed the presence of a banned anti-inflammatory agent.
Last year, Mr. Baffert apologized for the violations of his horses in the face of criticism and promised to be more vigilant in the future.
“I am very aware of the various incidents this year related to my horses and the implications for my family, horse racing and myself,” Baffert said in a statement. “I want to have a positive influence on horse racing. Horses were my life and I owe them everything and the tremendous sport I was so happy to be a part of. “