Reaction to Medina Spirit failing Kentucky Derby drug test and Bob Baffert suspension

Trainer Bob Baffert stands with Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit outside his barn on the backside at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 2, the day after the race.
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You can read my column here about Medina Spirit failing his Kentucky Derby drug test, but here’s more reaction to Bob Baffert facing another positive in his barn:

Baffert is leaking credibility

Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde:

“Why indeed, Bob? Why is there always a new problem for the most successful trainer in the sport?

“At this point, it’s up to Baffert to supply a compelling answer to that question, not the rest of us. It’s his job to convince the world that he’s not what he seems to be. A man who has been a lightning-rod figure in racing for a quarter century has now seen his leaking credibility reach the saturation point. Churchill Downs, which always has welcomed Baffert with open arms, announced Sunday that it has suspended the California-based trainer.”

Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal:

“Bob Baffert’s problem is he’s had too many problems.

“Too many issues requiring explanations. Too many failed drug tests in need of mitigating factors. Too many times when the Hall of Fame trainer has stretched the envelope of plausibility the way a sumo does spandex.

“This takes a toll. Though Baffert has succeeded in avoiding major sanctions in recent years by citing environmental contamination, chain-of-custody questions and inadvertent contact with cough syrup and lidocaine patches, even the most legitimate of excuses can be cumulatively corrosive.”

John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times:

“Last year, Baffert had four different positives involving three horses. Charlatan and Gamine tested positive for lidocaine on Arkansas Derby day. Upon appeal, the original disqualification of the horses and suspension of Baffert were overturned by the Arkansas Racing Commission as a case was made for inadvertent and unexplained contamination. Baffert did receive a fine.

“Gamine was disqualified from a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks after betamethasone was discovered in her system. Baffert said the filly was administered the drug, but outside of the accepted window by several days.

“’Gamine, we treated her (with betamethasone), this horse was not,’ Baffert said Sunday. Gamine went on later last year to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.”

Medina Spirit could still run in the Preakness Stakes

Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun:

“Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said he couldn’t comment on an open case in another state but said there’s no reason Medina Spirit can’t run in the Preakness. The Derby champion will have a blood sample taken for testing when he arrives in Maryland and would be tested after the Preakness if he finishes in the top three. Betamethasone is also a regulated drug in Maryland, meaning it can be used therapeutically but triggers a violation if it shows up in a race-day sample.”

From NBC News:

“Medina Spirit is expected to continue racing in the meantime and the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, is scheduled to take place on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, according to Baffert. On Sunday afternoon, the Preakness Stakes said it is investigating the announcement.

“’We are consulting with the Maryland Racing Commission and any decision regarding the entry of Medina Spirit in the 146th Preakness Stakes will be made after review of the facts,’ the group said in a statement.”

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:

“It’s a close call whether Thoroughbred racing is an elegance or a barbarity. It’s another close call whether the game’s top horseman, Bob Baffert, has crossed over a fine line between training his charges and tricking them into running on tender legs. But here is what should not be a close call: pulling Medina Spirit from the Preakness Stakes and other races until the latter question is sorted out. That one should be plain and easy.”

Horse racing has acknowledged a drug problem

Joe Drape of the New York Times:

“The positive test comes as horse racing, acknowledging it has a drug problem, prepares to implement the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which was passed last year in Congress. It will take effect July 1, 2022, and calls for a board overseen by the Federal Trade Commission to write rules and penalties to be enforced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

“The agency, which regulates Olympic and other elite athletes in the United States, revealed the cyclist Lance Armstrong’s cheating and issued him a lifetime suspension in 2012.”

Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post:

“And for a third, Baffert’s contention that Medina Spirit had never received betamethasone departs from his other recent defenses against similar allegations. In the case of the filly Gamine, Baffert wound up acknowledging that the horse had received legal drugs from veterinarians in the weeks before races in Arkansas in May 2020 and Kentucky in September 2020, but that the levels in her bloodstream had not ebbed to accepted levels by post time. In those cases, Baffert received a suspension that wound up overturned last month in Arkansas, with a victory purse restored, and disqualified from a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks.”

Integrity of Kentucky Derby at stake

Rick Bozich of WDRB:

“After talking to somebody who breeds, owns and races horses as well as that racing official, more than a failed drug test is at stake here.

This is about the integrity of the Kentucky Derby, the only two minutes every year when many fans focus their attention on horse racing.

I asked the official what he believed the average fan will think after hearing the Derby winner was on the brink of a disqualification for a drug violation.

“The lack of confidence that you’ve got a level playing field in horse racing is the biggest problem we’ve got,” they said.

What is betamethasone?

Frank Angst of the Blood-Horse:

“Betamethasone, the medication that triggered a failed post-race drug test for Medina Spirit after he finished first in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), is a corticosteroid that is among the accepted medications used in horse racing although such substances are more highly regulated than ever.

In late summer last year, Kentucky updated its rules on corticosteroids like betamethasone. The new standards call for a withdrawal time of 14 days before a race — up from the previous seven days. While some substances allow for a low-level amount that doesn’t affect performance or the horse’s safety — a threshold — betamethasone no longer has such a level in place. Any level of detection of betamethasone is a violation.”

Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form:

“While most members of the general public and the outsized group of racing participants who are suspicious of Baffert will treat the positive as an indication of cheating, many horsemen and regulators will instead place the blame on what they consider endemic problems in how the racing industry handles commonly used medications, including what those critics characterize as poorly researched withdrawal times and thresholds set so low that laboratories catch the presence of regulated drugs well after they could have had any impact on a horse’s performance or through accidental contamination.”

Carolyn Greer of Horse Racing Nation:

“Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Lexington, Ky.-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, explained how it and other drugs work within a horse. She emphasized that she has had no involvement in the Medina Spirit case and is speaking only hypothetically about horses in general.

“’Betamethasone can also be used subcutaneously to inject around soft tissue structures that may be inflamed,’ Scollay told Horse Racing Nation in a phone interview. ‘It can also be applied topically — there’s an antibiotic betamethasone combination spray that can be used to treat wounds or skin irritation. And I don’t have any data on what sorts of concentrations in the blood or urine that results in.’”

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