Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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Bob Baffert Barred From Belmont Stakes by NY Racing Officials

The Hall of Fame trainer was already under suspension at Churchill Downs, where he won his seventh Kentucky Derby before his horse failed a drug test.

New York horse racing officials on Monday barred the trainer Bob Baffert not only from entering the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit in the Belmont Stakes, but also from running any of his horses at Belmont Park or at Saratoga Race Course this summer.

In a statement, David O’Rourke, chief executive of the New York Racing Association, cited the investigation into Medina Spirit’s victory on May 1 in the Kentucky Derby. But he also took into account Baffert’s “failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California and Arkansas.”

Neither Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer with seven Kentucky Derby victories, nor his horses will be allowed on the grounds of those New York racetracks, which will be costly to the trainer’s horse owners because important and lucrative races are run on them. The ban extends to Baffert’s assistants as well.

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” O’Rourke said. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

Twice in recent years — in 2015 with American Pharoah and again three years later with Justify — Baffert’s horses completed the sport’s holy grail, the Triple Crown, at Belmont Park, the grand old racetrack on Long Island. Baffert also frequently sends horses from his California base to compete in stakes races at Saratoga, such as the Travers Stakes, which is also known as the Midsummer Derby.

“A final determination regarding the length and terms of Mr. Baffert’s suspension will be based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation in Kentucky, such as the post-Kentucky Derby test results of Medina Spirit,” O’Rourke said.

While Rombauer’s victory in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in Baltimore quieted the circus that has surrounded Medina Spirit since the colt’s positive test for the drug betamethasone, racing officials sought to put an end to it completely before it traveled to New York for the Belmont Stakes on June 5.

Churchill Downs officials have made it clear that if a second sample confirms the presence of the drug, a corticosteroid injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling, the colt will be disqualified and Mandaloun, the runner-up, will be declared the winner.

The results of that sample are not known yet, and Baffert had the right to send the second sample to a lab of his choice. That result is expected to be known in the coming weeks.

On May 9, after announcing the failed drug test, Baffert said there was no way he or his barn could have been responsible for giving Medina Spirit the steroid, and he vowed to be transparent. He gave a series of television and radio interviews, floating various theories about how the colt had tested positive for betamethasone.

Baffert criticized Churchill Downs’s suspension of him as “harsh,” blamed “cancel culture” for the controversy and said racing officials were out to get him.

The next day, however, he acknowledged treating Medina Spirit for a rash by using an antifungal ointment called Otomax, which contained betamethasone, every day for several weeks.

Last fall, after a run of high-profile drug violations — five in 13 months and 30 overall — Baffert said he hired Michael Hore, a veterinarian at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., to ensure rule compliance and the well-being of his horses. Within the past week, however, Baffert’s lawyer said that the veterinarian was, in fact, never hired.

At the Preakness, Baffert and the owners of Pimlico Race Course came up with an agreement to allow expanded drug testing as a way of allowing the colt to run. Three rounds of blood and urine were taken from Medina Spirit for tests, all of which he passed.

Baffert, however, stayed away from Baltimore, missing Medina Spirit’s third-place finish and avoiding questions about who prescribed the drug and how long it was applied to the horse.

Photos show that betamethasone is clearly labeled on the ointment’s packaging. Veterinarians have said it is often used to clear up ear infections in dogs and other small animals.

Baffert turned down several requests from The New York Times to make public his colt’s records.

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