Medina Spirit arrived at Pimlico Race Course on May 10. Maryland Jockey Club Photo.

Baffert: Ointment May Be Source of Betamethasone Positive for Medina Spirit

By Alicia Hughes

In a statement distributed by his attorney W. Craig Robertson III on May 11, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert says that an anti-fungal cream used to treat Medina Spirit in the weeks leading up to his victory in the May 1 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) contained betamethasone and may be the source of the colt’s positive post-race test.

Baffert acknowledged this past Sunday that his assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes had first been notified by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 picograms of the corticosteroid betamethasone in his post-race sample. Bethamethasone, 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. 

Baffert has repeatedly denied that Medina Spirit was ever treated with bethamethasone. In the statement released on Tuesday, Baffert says Medina Spirit was treated with the ointment Otomax 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) and that he was informed on May 10 that betamethasone was one of the substances in the medication. 

“Following the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end.  I had him checked out by my veterinarian who recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax,” Baffert said in the statement.  “The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis, and prevent it from spreading.  My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby. 

“Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone.  While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results.  As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information.”

A photo provided by attorney Craig Robertson on May 11, 2021 purports to show the dermatitis that developed on the hind end of Medina Spirit following the Santa Anita Derby.

The statement went on to add that Baffert is continuing his own internal investigation into the betamethasone positive and is still waiting for the results to be confirmed by a split sample, a process that could take weeks.  

Churchill Downs said in a statement on Sunday that “if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and (runner-up) Mandaloun will be declared the winner. “

“As I have stated, my investigation is continuing and we do not know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results, or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample,” Baffert said. “However, again, I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment.”

Baffert’s statement comes on the heels of a whirlwind media tour on Monday in which the trainer went on several television programs and other outlets to profess his side of the story – even saying he and Medina Spirit were being subjected to “cancel culture” in response to a decision by Churchill Downs to immediately suspend Baffert from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. 

Baffert did ship both Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour to Baltimore on Monday to be entered in the May 15 Preakness Stakes (G1), the middle leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico Race Course. On Sunday, the Maryland Jockey Club put out a statement saying it was consulting with the Maryland Racing Commission and that “any decision regarding the entry of Medina Spirit in the 146th Preakness Stakes will be made after review of the facts.”

Later that day, it was announced the draw for the Preakness would be pushed back from Monday at noon to Tuesday, May 11 at 4 p.m.

The penalty for a betamethasone first offense for a trainer in Kentucky is a fine of $1,000, without mitigating circumstance. For Class C drugs, a second offense in 365 days is a 10-30 day suspension “absent mitigating circumstances” and a $1,500-$2,000 fine. 

Last September, the Baffert-trained Gamine was disqualified from her third-place finish in the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and placed last after she tested positive for betamethasone. Baffert acknowledged that Gamine was treated with the medication prior to the Oaks and did not contest the ruling.  

The full statement from Bob Baffert is as follows:

BOB BAFFERT STATEMENT

            On May 8, 2021, I was informed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that MEDINA SPIRIT allegedly tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone.  On May 9, 2021, I held a press conference in which I stated that I intended to thoroughly investigate how this could have happened and that I would be completely transparent throughout the process.  I immediately began that investigation, which has resulted in me learning of a possible source for the betamethasone, and now, as promised, I want to be forthright about what I have learned.  

            Following the Santa Anita Derby, MEDINA SPIRIT developed dermatitis on his hind end.  I had him checked out by my veterinarian who recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax.  The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis, and prevent it from spreading.  My barn followed this recommendation and MEDINA SPIRIT was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby.  Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone.  While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results.  As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information. 

            As I have stated, my investigation is continuing and we do not know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results, or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample.  However, again, I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment.  I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent.  In the meantime, I want to reiterate two points I made when this matter initially came to light.  First, I had no knowledge of how betamethasone could have possibly found its way into MEDINA SPIRIT (until now) and this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage.  Second, horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse’s system at the picogram (which is a trillionth of a gram) level.  MEDINA SPIRIT earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race.  MEDINA SPIRIT is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.