The latest Kentucky Derby ended with a surprise when the longshot horse Medina Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert won the tournament. The victory marked Baffert’s seventh time taking the Kentucky Derby-winning title. However, post-race drug tests came back positive with Medina Spirit’s bloodstream containing an unusually large concentration of betamethasone, a steroid used as an anti-inflammatory drug. Even with the test results, Baffert announced the outcome of the drug test and denied that he had anything to do with the alleged doping.
Baffert held a press conference in front of his barn at the start of May to reveal the results of the drug test. After the press conference, a statement was issued by Churchill Downs to say that the trainer had been suspended from entering any races with any horses at the track in Louisville, at least for now. Additionally, the statement from the horse racing track said that failure to comply with the regulations set out regarding the protocols for administering medication jeopardizes the safety of the jockeys and the horses. It also puts a blight on the sport’s integrity and all the individuals that participate and most importantly the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) is investigating the matter and that a conclusion is being awaited before any other steps are taken.
The initial test on Medina Spirit was conducted by the KHRC on Derby Day and the results came back after the horse had already won the race. Baffert said that he would appeal the results and the specimen that was taken on the day was split into two separate samples. As part of the appeal, the second sample will be tested as well. The KHRC’s executive director Marc Guilfoil said that the horse’s owner and the trainer will be allowed due process as well as a chance to appeal the decision made. Until the second sample is tested and the investigation concludes, then no further statements will be given until that time. If the second sample matches the results from the first test then the horse, Medina Spirit, will face disqualification and the runner up would take its place and be crowned the new winner. That would be Mandaloun, who finished the race a half-length behind Medina Spirit.
Even if the winner is disqualified, bettors in the state shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not their bets and winning will be affected. There were no errors from the bettors or bookmakers taking the bets, only the racing results will be altered. If Medina Spirit is disqualified then it would mark the second time in the last three races that a winning result is overturned. The horse Maximum security was disqualified in 2019 after a review of the race found interference to be present. When it comes to bets placed, 2019’s results were changed and the bets were paid out accordingly. That was because the results were only made official after the review was completed, unlike the 2021 race that was decided and made official on the day.
During the press conference with Baffert, he claimed that his horse Medina Spirit has never been administered with betamethasone. He said that he cannot believe that he is in this position and in front of the press denying the alleged actions. Even though Baffert is considered to be one of the best horse trainers in the sport, it is not the first time that he has been faced with positive tests and allegations such as these. He has had positive tests overturned on several occasions, including one in April this year. The trainer was fined 10,000 USD even though his disqualification was overturned by the Arkansas Racing Commission. The reversal of the ruling involved his horses Gamine and Charlatan that won races at Oaklawn Park in 2020.
Furthermore, Gamine was also disqualified earlier this year when the horse won third place in 2020’s Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. In this case, an excessive concentration of betamethasone was also found in the post-race test. Baffert was not suspended but had to fork out 1,500 USD as a fine. Gamine subsequently returned to Churchill Downs the same day that Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby and she went on to win the Derby City Distaff. The win earned Baffert his 220th Grade 1 stakes win, which set a new record among trainers.
In his comments to the press, Baffert said that he and his horse are victims and if it ends with the horse being disqualified then it would be a great injustice. According to Baffert, the test showed nothing more than 21 picograms per milliliter of betamethasone in the horse’s system which according to the KHRC rules, is above the margin of error as the accepted amount is nine picograms per milliliter. Baffert added that his barn would do their own investigation as well as he pledged to be transparent throughout the investigation. Especially as an advocate for cleaning up the races. He has faced his fair share of trials in the past and said that should the next test come back negative, then he hopes that the media covers that story with as much vigour as it has with the current results. He believes that the industry needs to do a better job in racing to ensure fair racing practices and to keep the sport free from corruption and wants to know why these things happen to him.