By Mike Farrell
Monmouth Park is in full swing. Saratoga and Del Mar are a month away. It’s summertime in the racing world, and everything seems to be moving in the right direction.
It was heartening to see Woodbine back in action over the weekend after a pandemic-delayed opening for Canada’s premier meet.
For those who prefer an even more international flair, there is Royal Ascot.
Yes, it’s all happening, or will be soon enough.
Right now, we are still in the post Triple Crown lull with limited domestic stakes action. We collectively need this breather after a tumultuous run through the series.
After two surprising outcomes in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness (G1), the Belmont (G1) affirmed what we suspected all along. This is a quality crop of 3-year-olds and that bodes well for races on the horizon like the Haskell (G1) and the Travers (G1) on through to the Breeders’ Cup.
We’ve all had our fill of stories about split samples, picograms of betamethasone in the bloodstream and the contention that an ointment to treat a skin rash was the root of all the evil in the aftermath of the drug positive for Medina Spirit.
In the latest round, trainer Bob Baffert is squabbling with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission over testing of the urine sample.
It could be months, possibly years, before all regulatory and legal challenges are exhausted. It could take that long to ultimately determine if Medina Spirit is crowned the Derby winner or disqualified as a drug cheat.
Taking a stab with a less than reliable crystal ball, the following outcome seems most plausible: Medina Spirit is disqualified while Baffert skates away with a slap on the wrist.
How do we reach this conclusion? The evidence is clear that betamethasone was present in the horse’s blood sample. It was confirmed by two separate testing labs.
The presence of the drug, even in a microscopically minute quantity, is prohibited. The regulators have no choice but to order a disqualification.
With the sport under increased negative scrutiny by the national media, a strong stance will be taken and upheld. There’s been too much coverage to sweep this one under the carpet. If racing hopes to salvage its tattered reputation, there must be a stiff punishment.
And for Baffert? He has already launched the accidental contamination defense, claiming the drug was introduced into Medina Spirit through an ointment innocently used to treat a skin infection.
Baffert has successfully employed similar excuses in the past and his legal team are masters at making the case that the Hall of Fame trainer is a victim of circumstances beyond his control.
It could work again. The skin-ointment defense might save the day with Baffert penalized only by a fine and perhaps a short-duration suspension.
If this plays out, Medina Spirit, the innocent party in this saga, becomes the unwitting fall guy while Baffert rolls on.
No one ever said it was fair.
The Mid-Atlantic region lost two towering figures recently with the passing of Rick Porter and Sam Boulmetis.
Porter, the master of Fox Hill Farm, owned standouts such as 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, Songbird, Hard Spun and Omaha Beach.
Porter was also a leader in promoting aftercare for retired racehorses and supporting military veterans.
Boulmetis was a pillar of New Jersey racing for decades, first as a Hall of Fame rider who captured four titles at Monmouth in the early 1950s and later as a racing official and state steward.
Both men conducted themselves with class and dignity — qualities the sport desperately needs in these troubled times.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.