Churchill Downs Incorporated (“CDI”) announced on June 2 the suspension of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert for two years effective immediately through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack.
The announcement from CDI comes after it was confirmed earlier on Wednesday that the presence of the corticosteroid betamethasone in the post-race sample of Kentucky Derby (G1) first-place finisher Medina Spirit has been confirmed by the split sample at a level of 25 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma.
Betamethasone, a Class C drug, 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.
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.
“CDI has consistently advocated for strict medication regulations so that we can confidently ensure that horses are fit to race and the races are conducted fairly,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI. “Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated.”
Baffert had made headlines over the last year for a number of medication positives, including champion female sprinter Gamine who tested positive for betamethasone following her third-place finish in the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and was subsequently disqualified to last.
Both Gamine and stablemate Charlatan tested positive for lidocaine while running at Oaklawn Park last May and were initially disqualified from their victories. However, the Arkansas Racing Commission this past April overruled the stewards’ ruling and restored both victories on the grounds that level of lidocaine found was below performance enhancing and that they were the result of inadvertent contamination.
“Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in Thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby,” Carstanjen continued. “Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”
CDI added that it reserves the right to extend Baffert’s suspension if there are additional violations in any racing jurisdiction.
“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (“KHRC”) has the sole authority to disqualify Medina Spirit as the winner of Kentucky Derby 147,” the statement continued. “It is the understanding of CDI that the KHRC is pursuing the completion of its investigation of this matter in accordance with its rules and regulations.”
In a statement provided earlier on Wednesday to TVG, KHRC spokesperson Sherelle Roberts wrote, “The KHRC does not provide comment or updates on the status of ongoing investigations. The KHRC values fairness and transparency and will provide information to the media and public at the close of an investigation.
Baffert is also currently under suspension from the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA). NYRA announced two days after Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness Stakes (G1) that it was temporarily suspending Baffert and any individuals employed by Baffert from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack.
The California Horse Racing Board issued a statement on May 24 saying it could not suspend Baffert “or revoke occupational licenses without a hearing and due process. Should any regulatory body take action against any licensee, we would reciprocate that action in California.”
Medina Spirit’s victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby gave Baffert a record-setting seventh win in the 1 1/4-miles classic. Should Medina Spirit have his victory taken down as a result of the positive, he would join Dancer’s Image in 1968 as the only winners to be disqualified due to a failed post-race drug test.