By Richard Rosenblatt
Bob Baffert is out at Churchill Downs.
The Hall of Fame trainer, and thoroughbred racing’s most recognizable figure, was suspended for two years, effective immediately, by Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
The announcement on Wednesday came hours after the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit’s post-race positive drug test was confirmed.
Medina Spirit finished first in the Derby on May 1, and a week later it was revealed the colt tested positive for betamethasone, a therapeutic medication prohibited on race day. The split sample positive result was confirmed by Baffert’s lawyer Craig Robertson.
Baffert was suspended temporarily in mid-May by Churchill Downs pending the split sample result. Now, the suspension will run through Churchill’s 2023 spring meet, meaning no Derby for Baffert in 2022 or 2023.
“The suspension prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks,’’ Churchill Downs said in a statement. “This decision follows the confirmation by attorneys representing Bob Baffert of the presence of betamethasone, a prohibited race-day substance, in Medina Spirit’s bloodstream on the day of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols and CDI’s terms and conditions for racing.”
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has the authority to disqualify Medina Spirt as the winner of the Derby. The KHRC said earlier Wednesday it is still completing its investigation according to its rules and regulations.
Baffert had a record-equaling six Derby victories before Medina Spirit finished first on May 1 for a record seventh win in the Run for the Roses. That victory now looks like it’ll be a disqualification, and if that happens, you can expect other tracks to impose suspensions (Baffert also was suspended last month from entering horses at New York tracks – Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct).
Bill Carstanjen, the CEO of Churchill Downs, Inc., said in the statement: “Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated.
Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”