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Horse Racing

Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby victory overturned; trainer Bob Baffert suspended 90 days, will appeal ruling that could keep his horses out of Preakness

Nearly 10 months after the running of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, the race has a new winner, Mandaloun, after Kentucky stewards disqualified Medina Spirit for a medication violation in a long-anticipated ruling released Monday.

The stewards also suspended Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, for a 90-day period running from March 8 to June 5, and fined him $7,500. Baffert’s suspension will extend to Maryland, meaning he would be ineligible to enter horses in the May 21 Preakness Stakes.

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“We recognize all suspensions through reciprocity,” Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said in an email.

Baffert’s attorney, Clark Brewster, said the trainer will appeal the Kentucky ruling: “We are disappointed by the Commission’s ruling, but not surprised,” Brewster said. “This ruling represents an egregious departure from both the facts and the law, but the numerous public statements by [Kentucky Horse Racing Commission] officials over the last several months have made perfectly clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we ever sat down for a hearing before the three stewards, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as the racing director at Turfway Park. We will appeal, and we will prevail when the facts and rules are presented to detached, neutral decision makers.”

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In a subsequent phone interview, Brewster said he filed Baffert’s appeal on Monday and expects a quick stay of the suspension in Kentucky while an administrative law judge reviews the case. He said he expects that stay to extend to Maryland, meaning Baffert would be able to operate in the state while the appeal is pending.

“I’m pretty confident that the course will be corrected, unless they don’t apply the rules to the facts,” Brewster said. “In the meantime, any suspension announced by the stewards ... won’t be put in place until the final ruling. So I don’t anticipate any kind of suspension for Maryland to concern themselves with.”

Regardless of how quickly his appeals and legal challenges move forward, the doping saga around Baffert, the sport’s most visible star, will loom over another Triple Crown season.

Baffert, who has won the Preakness seven times, was allowed to enter Medina Spirit in the 2021 race after the colt tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone in the wake of the Derby. Medina Spirit, who died suddenly in December, was subject to additional drug testing and monitoring in the run-up to the Preakness, where he finished third, well back of surprise winner Rombauer.

Churchill Downs, home of the Derby, had already suspended Baffert for two years and excluded his horses from earning qualifying points for the 2022 Derby. Those rulings have thrown the fates of top 3-year-olds such as Messier, Newgrange and Corniche — all trained by Baffert — into question. Owners would have to transfer these horses to other trainers to have a shot at the Derby, scheduled for May 7.

“Today, Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and extends our congratulations to owner/breeder Juddmonte, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux,” Churchill Downs Inc. said in a statement. “Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction.”

At a Feb. 14 hearing, Baffert’s attorneys argued that the ointment through which Medina Spirit absorbed betamethasone was not banned under Kentucky regulations. But they did not persuade the panel of three stewards, who stuck closely to state regulations that permitted no trace of betamethasone on race day.

“Medina Spirit would have won with or without the ointment because it was irrelevant in every way,” Brewster, the trainer’s attorney, said in his statement. “The stewards’ decision to rob Medina Spirit of a victory he earned was not in accordance with the law but instead represents biased, purposeful, and wrongful action.”

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In announcing Baffert’s suspension, the Kentucky Horse Racing Association noted his four other medication violations in a 13-month period including the 2021 Derby. The trainer is also under fire in New York, where his attorneys are trying to ward off a lengthy suspension from the New York Racing Association.

By comparison, Maryland racing officials have remained mostly quiet on Baffert, who does not run horses in the state outside of Preakness week.

Baffert has 10 days to request a review of the Kentucky decision, and the case could move to the state’s courts after that. The only other time a Derby was overturned because of a medication violation, with Forward Pass taking the victory from disqualified Dancer’s Image in 1968, the ensuing legal dispute lasted almost five years.

For now, the Derby victory and the $1.86-million purse belong to Mandaloun, Juddmonte and Cox, who recently won his second straight Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer.

“I don’t really know what to think of it,” Cox told TVG.com. “It’s a bizarre situation and … yeah. I don’t know that there is a feeling to be quite honest. I don’t know that there is any joy in being placed first through a DQ or not.”


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