Trainer Bob Baffert shows off Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit on May 2, 2021. Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.

Attorneys: Testing on Medina Spirit Show Betamethasone Came from Ointment

By Alicia Hughes

A pair of statements issued the evening of Dec. 3 by W. Craig Robertson III, attorney for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and Clark Brewster, who represents owner Zedan Racing Stables, say that follow-up testing on the post-race sample from Medina Spirit following his victory in the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1) indicate the presence of the corticosteriod betamethasone came from the topical ointment Otomax and not an injection.

According to Robertson, the testing was completed by Dr. George Maylin, director of the New York Drug Testing & Research Program. By Order of the Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, the urine was tested “to determine if the alleged topical administration of Otomax could have resulted in the finding of betamethasone” in Medina Spirit following his first-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. 

“Those results have now definitively confirmed that the betamethasone present in Medina Spirits’s system did indeed come from the topical ointment Otomax and not an injection,” Robertson’s statement continued. “In other words, it has now been scientifically proven that what Bob Baffert said from the beginning was true – Medina Spirt was never injected with betamethasone and the findings following the Kentucky Derby were solely the result of the horse being treated for a skin condition by way of a topical ointment – all at the direction of Medina Spirit’s veterinarian.  

“The betamethasone in an injection is betamethasone acetate,” the statement continued. “The betamethasone in the topical ointment is betamethasone valerate.  Only betamethasone acetate is addressed and regulated in the rules of racing in Kentucky.  Thus, the presence of betamethasone valerate in Medina Spirit, which resulted from a topical ointment, is not a rules violation.  Dr. Maylin’s testing not only confirmed the presence of betamethasone valerate, but also the absence of betamethasone acetate.  This should definitively resolve the matter in Kentucky and Medina Spirit should remain the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.” 

The statement from Brewster read:

“As Legal counsel for, and on behalf of, Amr Zedan and Zedan Racing Stable, owner of Medina Spirit, winner of the 147th Kentucky Derby, it is extremely gratifying to learn that the New York Racing Laboratory through its Director Dr George Marlin has scientifically confirmed that no Betamethazone Acetate was found in the post-race urine specimen of Medina Spirit. Dr Maylin reported that components of an ointment used to treat a skin lesion was confirmed through metabolite confirmation and that no Acetate that is part of the injectable Betamethazone was present. The Kentucky Racing Commission has steadfastly enacted rules relating to corticosteroid joint injection and have drawn a bright line rule that no injections are permitted within 14 days of a race. Now there is zero doubt that the 14 day rule some thought might have been violated by the earlier less specific testing is revealed as premature judgment. That groundless accusation is without scientific merit.”

Betamethasone is a Class C drug typically given via injection that is allowed in Kentucky as a therapeutic. However, state rules require at least a 14-day withdrawal time and any level of detection on race day is a violation. 

The threshold for the medication was changed to zero from 10 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma in August 2020.

According to Baffert, the initial sample came back positive for 21 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma for betamethasone. A split sample in June confirmed the presence of betamethasone at a level of 25 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma.

In a press conference held at Churchill Downs outside of his barn on May 9, 2021, Baffert acknowledged the positive test but initially claimed “We did not give it. He has never been treated with betamethasone. Yesterday I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something that I didn’t do.”

However, in a follow-up statement issued on May 11, Baffert said that the anti-fungal cream Otomax, which contains betamethasone, was used to treat Medina Spirit once a day after the colt developed a dermatitis on his hind end following his runner-up effort in the April 3 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1).

“The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis, and prevent it from spreading,” Baffert said in a statement. “My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby.”

Champion female sprinter Gamine, who is also trained by Baffert, tested positive for betamethasone following her third-place finish in the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and was subsequently disqualified to last. 

“With Gamine we did treat her (before the Oaks). But this horse has not been treated with this,” Baffert said of Medina Spirit during his May 9 press conference.

After the split sample in June confirmed the presence of betamethasone in Medina Spirit, Churchill Downs Incorporated (“CDI”) announced it was suspending Baffert for two years through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack. The suspension by CDI prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks and effectively rules the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer out of the Kentucky Derby for the next two years. 

In September, Churchill Downs announced that effective Sept. 30, 2021, points from any race in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” will not be awarded to any horse trained by any individual who is suspended from racing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby or any trainer directly or indirectly employed, supervised, or advised by a suspended trainer. Should a horse trained by a suspended trainer, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed, supervised, or advised by a suspended trainer, finish in a position that would have earned points in a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race occurring after Sept. 30, 2021, the points associated with that finish position will be vacated.

As a result of that rule, Baffert’s top 2-year-old Corniche, winner of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), has not been eligible to earn any Kentucky Derby qualifying points.