Medina Spirit will be allowed to run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes despite a failed drug test that could cost him his victory in the Kentucky Derby.
W. Craig Robertson III, the attorney for Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert, said he reached a deal with the Maryland Jockey Club to allow Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour in the race as long as they’re subject to “blood testing, monitoring and medical record review.”
If either horse, or Baffert’s Black Eyed Susan entrant Beautiful Gift, fails a drug test, that horse will be scratched, Robertson wrote in a letter to attorney Alan Rifkin, who represents the Maryland Jockey Club. “Mr. Baffert has given these consents to further the interests of horse racing and the public,” he wrote.
Medina Spirit’s positive test for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone put the Jockey Club in a difficult position given the track operator’s well-publicized efforts to eliminate trainers’ use of race-day medications.
Preakness organizers had to respect the rights of Baffert and his horses, said Craig Fravel, chief executive officer for the Jockey Club’s parent company, 1/ST RACING.
“We are well aware of the public outcry and calls for action that have been the natural outcome of a medication positive in one of the most iconic races in our sport and we share the disappointment and concern,” Fravel said in a statement. “We are required to acknowledge in this instance that fundamental fairness compels us to respect the individual rights of participants in our sport to due process and adherence to agreed-upon and well-established rules.”
He noted that results for Medina Spirit’s split-sample blood test have not come back and that Kentucky officials have yet to take action in the case.
“While the integrity of our sport is of utmost importance, it is the responsibility of those in authority to follow the rules even as we seek to enforce them,” Fravel said. “We cannot make things up as we go along and we trust that the competitors, bettors and fans will understand the importance of adhering to that principle.”
Robertson said all three Baffert-trained horses were tested upon arriving at Pimlico Race Course on Monday and that further blood samples were taken Tuesday.
Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for 1/ST racing, said that if Baffert’s horses have banned substances or unacceptable levels of therapeutic drugs (including betamethasone, for which there is no allowable level in Maryland) in their systems, “we will know about them before the race.”
Less than an hour after the deal to enter him in the Preakness was announced, Medina Spirit drew the No. 3 post and was listed as a 9-5 favorite in the morning line.
Officials at Churchill Downs, the home of the Derby, suspended Baffert shortly after he revealed Medina Spirit’s positive test Sunday morning. Robertson said this punishment violated due process, and he threatened to file for a temporary restraining order if Preakness officials barred Medina Spirit from the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Baffert said Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end after his second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby and that his veterinarian recommended treatment with the ointment, called Otomax. The colt received treatments with this ointment until the day before the Kentucky Derby, Baffert said.
The Hall of Fame trainer had previously said Medina Spirit was not treated with betamethasone. If a split blood sample also tests positive for the anti-inflammatory drug, Medina Spirit will lose his Derby victory. Baffert said he did not realize Otomax contained betamethasone until he was informed Monday.
“While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results,” Baffert said in his statement.
Medina Spirit jogged once around the track at Pimlico Race Course on Tuesday morning as the racing world awaited word on his status for the second leg of the Triple Crown. Preakness organizers said Sunday they would review all the relevant facts before deciding whether he could run.
Medina Spirit’s saga continued to overshadow the rest of the 10-horse field as organizers drew post positions Tuesday afternoon.
The Kentucky Derby champion’s stablemate, Concert Tour, drew the No. 10 post and was listed as a 5-2 second choice in the morning line. He’ll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, and jockey Mike Smith could look to take him right to the lead from the outside.
Midnight Bourbon, sixth in the Kentucky Derby after a rough beginning, will start from the No. 5 post as a 5-1 third choice in the morning line. He will likely run a similar tactical race to Medina Spirit, with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. looking to be on or near the early lead. He had never finished worse than third in seven career starts before the Derby. On Monday, two-time Preakness winning trainer Steve Asmussen described himself as giddy about Midnight Bourbon’s chances.
“He’s just such a beautiful specimen and he goes over the racetrack so pretty,” he said.
Keepmeinmind, coming off a hard-charging seventh-place finish in the Derby, will start from the No. 2 post as a 15-1 choice in the morning line. He will need a fast early place to set up his expected late move.
Trainer Chad Brown’s two entries, Crowded Trade and Risk Taking, will start from the No. 4 and No. 9 post, respectively. Crowded Trade, who ran third in the Wood Memorial, is a 10-1 choice in the morning line. Risk Taking, who ran a disappointing seventh as the favorite in the Wood, is a 15-1 choice.
Todd Pletcher trainee Unbridled Honor, runner-up in the Lexington Stakes, will start from the No. 8 post as a 15-1 choice in the morning line.
Rombauer, third in the talent-rich Blue Grass Stakes, will start from the No. 6 post as a 12-1 choice in the morning line.
D. Wayne Lukas will try for a seventh Preakness win with his longshot, Ram, who will start from the No. 1 post as a 30-1 choice in the morning line.
Japanese horse France Go de Ina will start from the No. 7 post as a 20-1 choice in the morning line.
146TH PREAKNESS STAKES
Saturday, 6:45 p.m. post time
TV: Chs. 11, 4 (4:30 p.m.)
Triple Crown series: Belmont, June 5