Bob Baffert files suit to spur more testing on Medina Spirit sample

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John Velazquez riding Medina Spirit crosses the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit to what is now a controversial victory in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Attorneys for Medina Spirit trainer Bob Baffert and owner Amr Zedan filed suit Monday to compel the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to allow further testing on the biological samples taken from the Kentucky Derby winner.

It is the first of what is expected to be a series of lawsuits over the upcoming months — and possibly years — over who will be deemed the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby.

According to the complaint filed in Franklin (Ky.) Circuit Court, Baffert and Zedan want the KHRC to release what samples it has remaining on the 3-year-old colt for further testing.

After Baffert was informed of the positive test for betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory but not on race day, it was requested that a split sample also be tested, as is standard. There is zero tolerance for race-day presence of the drug in Kentucky and many other states, including California. The drug is not considered a performance enhancer.

Baffert and Zedan wanted testing for other substances than betamethasone but the KHSC refused. The second test was also positive. An agreement was reached May 24 whereby the remains of the split sample could be tested by a lab. But they were informed around June 1 that the sample was damaged or compromised before reaching the lab.

According to the suit, the KHSC has in a freezer an “unopened, untested and hopefully pristine sample” of Medina Spirit’s urine. That is what Baffert and Zedan want tested.

The strategy is to scientifically prove that the betamethasone was introduced topically by an ointment to clear up a case of dermatitis and not through interarticular injection, which is the most common form of administration.

Then the argument will be made that the rule was intended only for interarticular injections.

“The manner in which the betamethasone found its way into Medina Spirit is critical,” according to the suit. “There is a huge difference in a betamethasone finding from an interarticular joint injection versus one from a topical ointment.”

All of this has played out publicly without an official finding or notice from the KHSC. It likely will disqualify Medina Spirit and then a hearing will be held. Depending upon the outcome, litigation will continue.

Churchill Downs has suspended Baffert from running at any of its tracks for two years. The New York Racing Assn. also has a “temporary” ban of the trainer from its tracks. The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, and Del Mar are waiting for more information or a finding from a state regulatory board before deciding what to do.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president for PETA, an animal rights group, said the additional testing wouldn’t exonerate the trainer.

“A test result revealing that he used ointment on Medina Spirit wouldn’t prove that he didn’t also inject the horse’s joints.” Guillermo said.

Craig Robertson, attorney for Baffert, said last week that there would be no further comment until all testing is complete. He reiterated that point to The Times on Tuesday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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