Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Disqualifies Medina Spirit, Suspends Baffert

Trainer is also assessed a $7,500 fine and kept out of this year's Derby
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Disqualifies Medina Spirit, Suspends Baffert
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(Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Bob Baffert’s attorney.)

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday disqualified Medina Spirit as the winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby and further punished trainer Bob Baffert for his role in the doping scandal.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone, which is legal in Kentucky but banned on race day.

The colt finished a half-length ahead of Mandaloun in the historic race, giving Baffert what then appeared to be his record seventh Kentucky Derby title. A lengthy investigation, however, resulted in Monday’s decision stripping Medina Spirit’s win.

Churchill Downs responded to the commission’s decision by ruling that Mandaloun’s owners would receive the $1.8 million winner’s purse. Baffert, who already had been banned from Churchill Downs for two years, received a 90-day suspension in Kentucky as well as a $7,500 fine.

Medina Spirit died on Dec. 6 of a heart attack after a five-furlong workout at Santa Anita Park in southern California.

Monday’s decision by the stewards marks the third time a Kentucky Derby winner has been disqualified in the race’s 147-year history and the second time because of banned substances. Dancer’s Image was DQ’d in 1968 after traces of phenylbutazone surfaced in mandatory post-race testing. Maximum Security was DQ’d following the 2019 race because of interference.

Plans for appeal

“This ruling represents an  egregious departure from both the facts and the law, but the numerous public statements by KHRC officials over the last several months have made perfectly clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we ever sat down for a hearing before the three stewards, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as the racing director at Turfway Park,” Baffert’s attorney, Clark Brewster, said in a statement after the decision. “We will appeal, and we will prevail when the facts and rules are presented to detached, neutral decision-makers.”

Churchill Downs, which has yet to engrave the trophy as it waited for the process to play out, released its own statement Monday saying, “Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction.”

Betamethasone is a corticosteroid injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling. Baffert and his lawyers have denied he injected the colt while maintaining the drug was applied topically to treat a skin rash.

The Baffert legal team contended at a hearing before the commission in January that the drug tests and overages after the race were cases of contamination or minor overages of therapeutic medications and not doping.

Baffert’s 90-day suspension is scheduled to start on March 8 and run through June 5, a span that would include the first two legs of the Triple Crown: the Derby and Preakness Stakes. The trainer has 10 days to request a review of the stewards’ ruling by or to apply for a stay from the commission’s executive director.

Photo: Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY

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