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

NYRA Announces Hearings for Baffert, Vitali

TVG Staff Report

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) on Sept. 10 announced that it has issued a notice of hearing and statement of charges to trainers Bob Baffert and Marcus Vitali. 

NYRA is contending that Baffert and Vitali have engaged in conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the sport of Thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders. Further, as detailed in the respective statements of charges, it states that this conduct warrants revocation or suspension of their right to train horses, enter races, or engage in any racing-related activity at all NYRA properties including Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. 

NYRA has established Hearing Rules and Procedures that provide a formalized mechanism for a respondent to reply to charges and to participate in a hearing in accordance with due process rights. The hearing for Baffert is scheduled to begin on Sept. 27, 2021. The hearing for Vitali is scheduled to begin on Sept. 30, 2021.

“NYRA has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the sport of Thoroughbred racing,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O’Rourke. “We are determined to ensure the actions taken in furtherance of that goal comport with the requirements of due process, which is what the hearing rules and procedures established by NYRA provide.”

A designated hearing officer will ensure the proceedings are fairly and impartially conducted in accordance with NYRA’s Hearing Rules and Procedures. Following the proceeding, the hearing officers will issue a report containing findings of fact, conclusions, and a recommended disposition. 

The Honorable O. Peter Sherwood, a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, will serve as hearing officer in the Baffert matter. The Honorable Robert Smith, a retired Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, will serve as hearing officer in the Vitali matter. 

In its statement of charges delivered to Baffert, NYRA cites that the Hall of Fame trainer had “four horses test positive in the 12 months preceeding the running of the 2021 Kentucky Derby” including champion female sprinter Gamine, who tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone after finishing third in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1).

The statement then goes on to lay out the current case of this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Medina Spirit also testing positive for betamethasone, a Class C drug that is allowed in Kentucky as a therapeutic. However, state rules require at least a 14-day withdrawl time and any level of detection on race day is a violation. 

After the presence of the betamethasone in Medina Spirit was confirmed in the post-race sample of at a level of 25 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma, Churchill Downs Incorporated (“CDI”) announced on June 2 it was suspending Baffert for two years through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack

NYRA initially announced on May 17 a temporary suspension of Baffert from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack but a New York federal judge issued a ruling on July 14 nullifying NYRA’s temporary ban, saying that the organization acted unconstitutionally by failing to provide him due process.

In its statement of charges against Vitali, NYRA says “from between in or about 2010 and in or about 2020, Respondent amassed an extensive record of medication violations, lengthy suspensions, improperly using ‘program’ or ‘paper’ trainers during suspensions and obstructing an investigation into alleged wrongdoing.”

The statement add that in the past five years, “Respondent was denied entry, ejected and/or had license applications denied by regulators of Thoroughbred racing in Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Delaware; and was sanctioned by The Jockey Club for violating a statute, rule, or regulation relating to prohibited or restricted drugs, medications, or substances seven times in a single year.”