By Ed McNamara
The suspensions against embattled trainer Bob Baffert are piling up, with the New York Racing Association the latest to temporarily bar the Hall of Famer from entering horses at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, or Aqueduct Racetrack.
Thoroughbred racing’s most successful and high-profile trainer, Baffert was handed a temporary suspension by NYRA on Monday, just over two weeks after he won the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Medina Spirit, who had a post-race positive for the presence of the steroid betamethasone.
He was also suspended temporarily by Churchill Downs a week after the Derby. Baffert has admitted the horse was given the medication while being treated for dermatitis. If a second sample returns a positive result, Churchill Downs will disqualify Medina Spirit and elevate second-place finisher Mandaloun.
Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness (G1) on May 15 and was unlikely to be entered in the Belmont Stakes (G1), the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 5.
According to NYRA, the length and terms of Baffert’s suspension will depend on results of the split sample. Same is true for Churchill Downs. NYRA said Baffert is not allowed to have any of his horses stabled at its tracks.
As of Monday night (May 17), there has been no comment from Baffert or his lawyer, Craig Robertson, who has said he’s reviewing the NYRA decision.
For racing, the day was as bleak as could be. Earlier, New York State regulators revoked the license of Linda Rice, the only woman ever to win the Saratoga training title. The New York State Gaming Commission ruled that Rice cannot re-apply for a license for three years and fined her $50,000.
She was penalized for what state regulators called a “corrupt” scheme to gain a competitive edge by requesting and receiving advance knowledge of horses entered in races before the cards were finalized.
In a statement, NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said: “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. That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”
Baffert has had numerous medication violations in the past year – four other drug positives in Arkansas (2), California and Kentucky factored into NYRA’s decision. Arkansas reversed two rulings against him last month, with one restoring Charlatan’s victory in a split division of the 2020 Arkansas Derby.
Usually, when a trainer is suspended, his horses can run in the name of an assistant until the ban is over. That will not be the case this time. Last week at Pimlico, Baffert’s longtime assistant, Jimmy Barnes, supervised the training of Medina Spirit and Concert Tour. NYRA will not allow Barnes or any other member of Bob Baffert Racing Stables to perform that role.
Baffert is based in California, and most of his horses are stabled at Santa Anita.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.