On Monday, Medina Spirit arrived in Baltimore under a cloud of scrutiny.
The Kentucky Derby winner tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone at the first leg of the Triple Crown, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning, and now faces a potentially historic disqualification. Baffert, who said his team never treated the colt with the drug, still plans to run him in Saturday’s Preakness.
With Medina Spirit having arrived at Pimlico in Baltimore on Monday afternoon, here’s what you need to know.
What is betamethasone?
Betamethasone is a man-made steroid that is used as a therapeutic medication in horse racing, often for joint pain.
In Kentucky, betamethasone is legal to use in training but must be administered no later than 14 days before a race. Any level of detection of betamethasone is a violation; Medina Spirit’s initial blood and urine tests, taken May 1, revealed 21 picograms of betamethasone per milliliter of plasma, Baffert said Sunday. A picogram is equal to one-trillionth of a gram.
“Medina Spirit has never been treated [with] betamethasone,” Baffert said at a news conference outside his barn at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. “I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something I didn’t do. It’s disturbing; it’s an injustice to the horse.”
Who is Bob Baffert?
With over 3,000 career wins, the 68-year-old Baffert is considered one of the greatest trainers in the sport’s long history.
Baffert’s horses, headlined by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, have won seven Kentucky Derbies, seven Preakness Stakes, three Belmont Stakes and three Kentucky Oaks. No trainer has claimed more Preakness titles than Baffert (seven), who also became the winningest trainer in Derby history (seven) with Medina Spirit’s first-place finish.
But Baffert has been trailed by controversy in recent years. Justify tested positive for the drug scopolamine, which can help optimize a horse’s heart rate, after winning the 2018 Santa Anita Derby. The result was attributed to the presence of naturally occurring jimson weed in the horse’s feed or bedding, which had been dropped off at Baffert’s barn and that of several other trainers, and the case was dismissed.
Baffert also had the disqualifications of two horses, Charlatan and Gamine, overturned after the pair tested positive for excessive amounts of lidocaine, a widely used local anesthetic, on Arkansas Derby day last year. Baffert’s attorney, W. Craig Robertson, argued that the positives were a result of Baffert’s assistant inadvertently transferring the lidocaine from a Salonpas pain relief patch to the horses.
Charlatan’s win in the Arkansas Derby and Gamine’s win in an allowance race were reinstated, and Baffert’s 15-day suspension by the Arkansas Racing Commission was waived. He was, however, fined $5,000 for each horse.
Gamine later tested positive for betamethasone at the Kentucky Oaks last year. Baffert waived his right to appeal, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission fined Baffert $1,500 and disqualified the filly’s third-place finish. Robertson said in a statement that Gamine had been administered betamethasone 18 days before the Oaks, but Gamine’s test revealed 27 picograms of betamethasone, above Kentucky’s previous 10-picogram threshold for the medication.
Will Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win stand?
Under Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, a second positive test is required before a horse can be disqualified, meaning Medina Spirit’s Derby win over Mandaloun stands for now. The only horse to be disqualified for medication after winning the Derby is Dancer’s Image, in 1968.
The split-sample test, as it’s known, will examine the remaining blood and urine samples. Baffert said Sunday that he didn’t know when the result of the split sample would be available. Mary Scollay, executive director at the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, told The Washington Post that the testing process can require two weeks to a month and sometimes longer.
Baffert, who promised to be fully transparent with the commission during its investigation, has been suspended from entering horses at Churchill Downs.
“Churchill Downs will not tolerate it,” track officials said in a statement Sunday. “Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”
Will Medina Spirit run in the Preakness?
Baffert said he still plans to enter Medina Spirit in Saturday’s Preakness.
In a statement Sunday, the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness, said it will review “the relevant facts” before deciding on the horse’s status for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“We are committed to achieving the highest level of horse care and safety standards, and we have a proven track record of pushing those standards forward,” the club and its parent company, 1/ST Racing, said in the statement.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said Medina Spirit 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 would trigger a violation if it shows up in a race-day testing sample.
Officials rescheduled the Preakness draw for Tuesday afternoon, moving it back a day in light of Sunday’s uncertainty. There are 10 horses considered probable to run.