The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced on May 17 it was temporarily suspending Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, seen here with Medina Spirit, from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack. Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.

NYRA Issues Temporary Suspension of Baffert

By Alicia Hughes

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced on May 17 it was temporarily suspending Hall of Fame trainer Bob 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 suspension comes in the wake of Baffert acknowledging that Medina Spirit, the first-place finisher in the 147th Kentucky Derby (G1), had tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone in his post-race sample. Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 picograms per milliliter of blood of 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. 

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is required to await the split-sample results before rendering a final determination in the matter.  Churchill Downs has said previously in a statement 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.”

NYRA said in its statement it expects to make a final determination regarding the length and terms of Baffert’s suspension based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation into the test results of Medina Spirit.

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

NYRA’s statement added the organization had taken into account the fact that other horses trained by Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas. 

Baffert made headlines 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. 

After initially denying that Medina Spirit had ever been treated with betamethasone, Baffert issued a statement two days later saying the colt 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. 

Medina Spirit finished third as the betting favorite in the May 15 Preakness Stakes (G1) after setting the early pace while stablemate Concert Tour ran ninth. Both horses shipped back to Churchill Downs on Sunday and trainer Jimmy Barnes said that morning Baffert “will evaluate everything and…see what direction he wants to go with them.”

The Belmont Stakes (G1), the final leg of the Triple Crown, takes place at Belmont Park on June 5. Eight Grade 1 races are slated to take place on the Belmont Stakes card.