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Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit fails drug test; Bob Baffert still plans to run him in Preakness Stakes

Medina Spirit tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone after his victory in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning, a result that could throw the Triple Crown series into chaos ahead of Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.

“Medina Spirit has never been treated [with] betamethasone,” Baffert said at an impromptu news conference outside his barn at Churchill Downs. “I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something I didn’t do. It’s disturbing; it’s an injustice to the horse.”

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Baffert said Medina Spirit has not yet been disqualified from the Derby and will still run in the Preakness. He’s scheduled to board a van to Baltimore on Monday afternoon.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness, said it will review “the relevant facts” before making a decision on Medina Spirit’s status for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

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“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.

The Preakness draw was moved from Monday to Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Trainer Bob Baffert of Medina Spirit raises the trophy after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Trainer Bob Baffert of Medina Spirit raises the trophy after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America/TNS)

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.

Churchill Downs confirmed the medication violation in a statement Sunday and suspended Baffert from racing horses at the home of the Derby.

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“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols,” the statement read. “[Those involved with] Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so. To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.”

Churchill Downs said a violation of this type “jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate. Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.”

Baffert, who won his seventh Derby with Medina Spirit, said he received the “horrible” news Saturday after Kentucky officials informed his assistant, Jimmy Barnes.

“I don’t feel embarrassed,” Baffert said Sunday, flanked by his attorney, W. Craig Robertson III. “I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do our own investigation, and we’re going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we’ve always been.”

Baffert, the sport’s most recognizable face and the most successful trainer in Triple Crown history, has lamented systemic problems with drug testing, arguing that penalties are imposed for minute levels of medications that can be introduced by environmental contaminants.

“How do I move forward from this, knowing that something like this can happen?” he said. “There’s something wrong right now. … Why is it happening to me? There’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”

Medina Spirit joins a string of champions trained by Baffert that have been flagged for medication violations over the past three years.

Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner, tested positive for the anti-nausea drug scopolamine after his final Derby prep race. Baffert blamed the test failure, which was not revealed until well after Justify won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, on environmental contamination. California officials ultimately agreed, dismissing the case and upholding Justify as the winner of the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.

Baffert’s troubles did not end there. In 2020, Kentucky Derby contender Charlatan and champion filly Gamine had wins vacated in Arkansas because of positive tests for lidocaine. Last month, the Arkansas Racing Commission restored those victories and wiped out a 15-day suspension for Baffert, though the trainer was still fined $10,000.

Gamine also tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid used to reduce pain and swelling in the joints, after her third-place finish in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. The drug is permitted for therapeutic use in Kentucky but is treated as a violation if it shows up in a race-day test sample.

Medina Spirit, the former $1,000 yearling who charmed fans with his refusal to be passed in the Derby, could lose his career-defining victory, but results for his split testing sample are still pending. If he is disqualified, he’d become just the second Derby winner and first since 1968 to lose his title because of a medication violation.

146TH PREAKNESS STAKES

Saturday, 6:45 p.m. post time

TV: Chs. 11, 4 (4:30 p.m.)

Triple Crown series: Belmont, June 5

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