Earlier this month, trainer Bob Baffert recorded his seventh Kentucky Derby win after Medina Spirit crossed the finish line, beating out the favorite Essential Quality to claim the victory. But, while the win was sweet, it may be short-lived. Over the weekend, it was announced that Medina Spirit might be disqualified due to failing a drug test.
During the race, Medina Spirit held off Mandaloun to win. However, the horse tested positive after the race for betamethasone, in levels that were too high on race day. The drug is legal to use but must meet certain levels by race day. For Baffert, he denies that betamethasone was used on the horse at all.
Churchill Downs Inc., the track owner where the Kentucky Derby takes place, has suspended Baffert. Further testing is being conducted on Medina Spirit to figure out precisely what is going on.
Baffert Denies Drug Use
In an early morning news conference on Sunday, Baffert appeared before the media with his attorney Craig Roberson. The trainer reported that his barn was told about the drug test failure, with officials stating Medina Spirit had 21 picograms of betamethasone in its system. This amount is double the threshold that is legal for horse racing in the state.
The horse failed its post-race sample, and the successful trainer is now being questioned on the matter. He says he didn’t do it. Baffert commented:
This shouldn’t have happened. There’s a problem somewhere. It didn’t come from us.”
According to the trainer, he has no idea how the horse tested positive. He says the horse has never been treated with the steroid. Baffert says he feels wronged and plans to be transparent as he works with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on the matter.
The win for Baffert was a record-setting one, so being disqualified would be a negative outcome for the trainer in more ways than one. If Medina Spirit is disqualfied, then the runner-up would be named the winner.
For now, Medina Spirit is expected to race in the Preakness this Saturday. The post-position draw has been pushed to later this week. It seems that officials want to be sure Medina Spirit is going to race before they draw positions.
A History of Failed Drug Tests
While Baffert says that Medina Spirit was not drugged by him and has no idea how the horse failed the test, there is a history of failed drug tests connected to his horses. The recent test marks the fifth horse trained by Baffert to fail a drug test in just over a year.
Gamine is another horse trained by Baffert that was found to have betamethasone in its system as well. The horse finished third during the September Kentucky Oaks but was disqualified due to the failed drug test. The trainer also had to pay a fine of $1,500 for the incident.
Another case against Baffert can be found connected to a horse named Justify. Over a year after Justify won the Triple Crown, reports emerged that the horse and others tested positive for scopolamine after the Santa Anita Derby. Justify needed to win the race, which it did, to make it to the Derby.
However, it was found that Justify and other horses were exposed to jimson weed by mistake, which resulted in the contaminated test.
Few Kentucky Derby Disqualifications
In the history of the Kentucky Derby, there have been very few disqualifications of the winner. The first took place way back in 1968 and involved the original winner Dancer’s Image. The horse defeated Forward Pass to earn the win, but a post-race test revealed the horse had phenylbutazone in its system. This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication used to treat pain.
The drug is legal to use when training but cannot be in the horse’s system during the race. The trainers felt like the low dosage they provided during training six days before the race would be gone from the horse’s system. However, it was not. Dancer’s Image lost the title, and Forward Pass was declared the winner.
Fast-forward to 2019, and another horse was disqualified from the win. Maximum Security set the pace of the race that year and, at one point, swerved from the rail while in the lead, which harmed the forward progress of other horses in the race.
Maximum Security won the race but was pushed to 17th after stewards deliberated for 20 minutes on the matter. The second-place finisher Country House was named the winner instead. Thus far, Maximum Security is the only horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified due to an infraction on the track.