By Richard Rosenblatt
The buzz is back in thoroughbred racing, but it’s not a pretty sound.
It’s more of a siren blaring through the industry with a New York Times report on Wednesday that Kentucky Derby (G1) first-place finisher Medina’s Spirit’s positive drug test has been confirmed.
The split sample result confirms the initial post-race positive that detected betamethasone, a corticosteroid used at a prohibited level.
The result sets up the strong possibility that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s 3-year-old colt will become the second horse in the 147-year history of the Derby to be disqualified because of a medication violation.
News of the split-sample positive comes a few days before the Belmont Stakes (G1), the final leg of a tainted Triple Crown season.
The lawyer who represents Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, told the Times that a lab at the University of California, Davis, tested the second post-race sample and confirmed the presence of betamethasone, which is used to reduce pain and swelling.
Churchill Downs officials have said that if the second sample comes back positive, Medina Spirit would be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun would be declared the Derby winner. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said it would wait for the entire matter to be completed before commenting on the report.
Dancer’s Image finished first in the 1968 Derby but was disqualified after a drug test showed the presence of a banned anti-inflammatory.
In a statement, Baffert’s lawyer Craig Robertson said that Medina Spirit’s split sample confirmed the finding of betamethasone at 25 picograms.
He added: “There is other testing that is being conducted, including DNA testing. We expect this additional testing to confirm that the presence of the betamethasone was from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not an injection.”
Baffert, the most recognizable person in the game, has seen his reputation tarnished over the past few years, with a slew of drug positives following races, including Charlatan after his win in the 2020 Arkansas Derby, and Gamine after her win in a race at Oaklawn Park.
Currently, Baffert is suspended from running horses at Churchill Downs and from entering or stabling horses at New York’s Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct.
The two-time Triple Crown winning trainer had no immediate comment but has tried to defend himself since the first positive was revealed on May 8, a week after the Derby.
Eventually, he said Medina Spirit was treated for a rash with the antifungal ointment Otomax, which contains betamethasone. Baffert said he was surprised that the medication contained betamethasone.
“At the end of the day, we anticipate this case to be about the treatment of Medina Spirit’s skin rash with Otomax,’’ said Robertson. “We will have nothing further to say until the additional testing is complete.”
If Medina Spirit is DQ’d, it would be the second time in three years the Derby first-place finisher wasn’t the winner – in 2019 Maximum Security finished first but was DQ’d to 17th for interference and runner-up Country House was declared the winner.
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.