BALTIMORE – Whether Maryland racing officials genuinely considered keeping thoroughbred racing’s most recognizable figure from entering Saturday’s Preakness may never be known, but concerns about due process appear to have won out.
After days of negotiations among lawyers, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was allowed to enter two horses in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is the 9-5 favorite in the morning line. Concert Tour, who skipped the Kentucky Derby, is the second choice at 5-2 odds in the 10-horse field.
With Baffert confirming Sunday that Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone following his Kentucky Derby victory, many have called for the trainer to keep the horse out of the $1 million Preakness or for Maryland officials to make that decision for him.
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Baffert is seeking his eighth Preakness victory, which would break a tie with R. Wyndham Walden for the most ever by a trainer. Medina Spirit gives Baffert a chance to win the Triple Crown for the third time in seven years.
Craig Fravel, chief executive officer for the Stronach Group that owns Pimlico Race Course, said the group is “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.”
However, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, by rule, cannot levy a penalty on Baffert or disqualify Medina Spirit as the Kentucky Derby winner unless a second test requested by the trainer — called a “split sample” — comes back positive. Results of that second test are not expected back for several weeks.
John Velazquez, aboard Medina Spirit, wins the Kentucky Derby. (Photo: Michael Clevenger and Christopher Granger/Courier Journal)
In light of Baffert’s announcement Sunday, Churchill Downs immediately suspended the trainer from entering horses at the track “and will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation before taking further steps.”
Baffert called it a “pretty harsh” penalty that “was like a cancel culture kind of a thing.”
Ultimately, Pimlico officials decided against making the same move as Churchill Downs.
“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,” Fravel said. “To this point, there has to our knowledge been no split-sample testing as is required in every state in this country, and no complaint or other official action has been announced by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission with regard to this incident.
“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. 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.”
Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney, released a letter Tuesday revealing an agreement between the trainer and Maryland racing officials. Baffert consented to pre-race blood testing and monitoring and a medical-record review by the Maryland Jockey Club on Medina Spirit, Concert Tour and Beautiful Gift, who is entered in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
Baffert has agreed to scratch any of the three horses who test positive for a banned substance.
“The integrity of the sport is of the upmost importance to Mr. Baffert, and by consenting to this testing regimen and monitoring he reaffirms his commitment and dedication to the sport,” Robertson wrote.
Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for the Stronach Group, said two labs are working on the test to ensure results will be available by Friday. There will be no split-sample testing.
“If it’s even going to be close, then we will enact our request for Mr. Baffert to scratch the horse,” Benson said.
Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Lexington, Ky.-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said it’s not unprecedented for officials to apply stricter testing for certain horses before a race.
Scollay noted Vyjack had four cameras monitoring his stall before the 2013 Kentucky Derby after trainer Rudy Rodriguez had three horses test positive for excessive amounts of Banamine, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
“It’s not unprecedented,” Scollay said, “but the reason it’s being done in this case is fairly unusual.”
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; [email protected]; Twitter: @KentuckyDerbyCJ.
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