By Richard Rosenblatt
Pending appeals — and there will be appeals — we have a new 2021 Kentucky Derby winner: Mandaloun.
More than nine months after Medina Spirit apparently gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a recording-setting seventh Derby victory, the Kentucky racing stewards disqualified the horse after a post-race positive for the banned race-day medication betamethasone.
The stewards ruling was announced on Monday (Feb. 21) and a news release was issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
Here’s the ruling: Baffert is suspended 90 days through June 5, 2022 and fined $7,500 and Medina Spirit is disqualified and all purse money forfeited. Parimutuel wagering is not affected. During Baffert’s suspension, entry of horses owned or trained by Baffert (at all KHRC facilities) is denied pending transfer to persons acceptable to the stewards.
Almost immediately, Churchill Downs – home of the Derby – congratulated the connections of Mandaloun – now first-time Derby winners Brad Cox (trainer), Florent Geroux (jockey) and Juddmonte Farms (owner).
“Today Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and extends our congratulations to owner/breeder Juddmonte, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux,’’ the track said in a statement. “Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction.”
Just as quickly, Baffert’s lawyer Craig Robertson said an “immediate appeal” will be filed.
“I am very disappointed in the ruling,” Robertson said. “It runs contrary to the scientifically proven facts in this case and the rules of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.”
After the Derby on May 1, Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, prohibited at any level on race day in Kentucky.
According to bloodhorse.com, a first appeal would be at the regulatory level — to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Under such an appeal, the KHRC would typically bring in a hearing officer to review the case before making a recommendation to the KHRC. The commission typically follows that recommendation. And then there’s the right to legal appeals of the KHRC decision.
The stewards’ decision also places Medina Spirit last in the field of 19. On Dec. 6, Medina Spirit died after a workout at Santa Anita. The cause is believed to have been a heart attack.
Mandaloun, meanwhile, is in Riyadh, preparing to take on Mishriff and a dozen other horses in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Saturday.
This is the second time in the past three years the first-place finisher in the Derby has been disqualified. In 2019, Maximum Security finished first in the Derby but was disqualified to 17th for interference.
It’s also the second time a horse has been DQ’d for a post-race drug test – Dancer’s Image was disqualified in 1968 for testing positive for phenylbutazone (bute).
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.