Baffert’s Kentucky Derby Win Could Be in Jeopardy

Photo courtesy Chris Aplin
Bob Baffert has been defending his Kentucky Derby victory after his winning horse Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test. The horse, pictured with Baffert and jockey John Velazquez, has been permitted to race in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, this Saturday.

Bob Baffert’s historic Kentucky Derby victory earlier this month is in jeopardy after winning horse Medina Spirit failed a drug test.
Churchill Downs issued a statement on Sunday saying a postrace blood sample indicated a violation of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols and results of a split sample test are pending. A second positive test would disqualify Medina Spirit from the Derby and make runner-up Mandaloun the official winner.
The only time a winning horse was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby because of a prohibited substance was in 1968 when Dancer’s Image tested positive for phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Baffert, a La Cañada Flintridge resident and legendary trainer, held an impromptu press conference at Churchill Downs on Sunday and said the horse tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory substance. The state of Kentucky does not allow any trainer to use corticosteroids 14 days prior to a race.
“All I can tell you is that even though it is an allowed drug, therapeutic medication, we did not give it,” Baffert told reporters. “ … Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethasone. I cannot believe that I am here before you guys. I never thought I’d be here. [Saturday] I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something I did not do. It’s disturbing; it’s an injustice to the horse.”
Baffert vowed to investigate the matter and released a statement through his lawyer on Tuesday acknowledging that Medina Spirit had been treated with an antifungal ointment called Otomax, which contains betamethasone, to treat its dermatitis, a skin condition that can cause itchiness, dryness or swelling.
“The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis and prevent it from spreading,” Baffert said in his statement. “My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby. … While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s postrace sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information.”
According to his statement, Baffert had no knowledge how the substance could have been found in the colt and was “told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment.”
In line with his comments during Sunday’s press conference, Baffert reiterated “this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage” and that “horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse’s system at the picogram level (which is a trillionth of a gram) level. Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race. Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”
Despite the failed drug test, Preakness Stakes officials permitted Medina Spirit to enter the second leg of the Triple Crown this Saturday at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, after Baffert agreed to their conditions of rigorous testing and monitoring.
Earlier this year, Baffert made similar headlines when the California Horse Racing Board elected to let stand a decision made by stewards at Santa Anita to dismiss complaints of post-race drug results from 2018 involving two of Baffert’s horses, including Triple Crown winner Justify.
The trainer was also fined $1,500 in February after his thoroughbred Gamine was disqualified from a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks after testing positive for betamethasone. Gamine had previously tested positive for lidocaine after winning at Oaklawn Park, as well as Baffert’s other horse Charlatan, which had won the Arkansas Derby. Both horses were disqualified but the decisions were later overturned.