By Mike Farrell
Oh no, Bob. Say it ain’t so.
Unfortunately, we’ve already heard you say it again, and again and again.
The last thing racing needed was another Bob Baffert medication infraction. That’s exactly what we got, casting another unsavory shadow over the biggest event: the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Medina Spirit, the front-running winner of the Derby trained by Baffert, was positive in the post-race testing for betamethasone, a regulated anti-inflammatory.
Baffert offered a full-throated defense of himself and his operation, calling it “an injustice to the horse” on Sunday morning at Churchill Downs.
And it’s also a black eye for racing during the Triple Crown, one of sport’s highest profile events of the year.
Once again, we’ll hear all the arguments over picograms of medication in a horse’s system and the usual defense motions challenging the accuracy of the test results and the security of the samples from the test barn to the laboratory.
The biggest issue is it’s Baffert — again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
In what has become a tiresome replay, Baffert assumed the role of victim.
Perhaps he is right. Maybe there exists in racing the equivalent of a “deep state” plotting to tarnish the reputation of the game’s most visible figure by throwing mud on his good name with a series of medication infractions.
Or perhaps, as Baffert has contended in the past, he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control with accidental and incidental contaminants.
In last week’s column, we welcomed the early signs of normalcy returning. The Derby was contested on the first Saturday in May, fans were back in the stands at Churchill Downs and, to continue the motif, Baffert won another Derby.
It all felt familiar, and warmly reassuring. That good vibe melted very quickly Sunday morning as Baffert again wound up on the defensive.
Unfortunately, racing’s “normal” includes Baffert running afoul of medication rules. The timing couldn’t be worse as the sport struggles battle the widespread perception that horses are routinely doped by unscrupulous trainers.
The sport is focused on getting the drugs out of racing. This was the first Triple Crown in decades in which Lasix was banned from all three races.
Any efforts to clean up racing’s image are undone every time Baffert makes headlines for the wrong reasons. Two weeks before the Derby, Baffert sat through an exhaustive hearing before the Arkansas Racing Commission following a pair of drug positives at Oaklawn Park in 2020.
They went easy on him, reinstating the two victories and while also dropping the 15-day suspension handed down to Baffert. He was fined $5,000 for each of the violations.
That story quickly faded, especially in the aftermath of Baffert’s latest Derby triumph. But now that story is front and center as the media paints Baffert as a recidivist cheater while the drug positives pile up.
The latest chapter still has a long way to go. A split sample test will be conducted to see if those results are also positive. Medina Spirit has not been disqualified from the Derby; yet Churchill Downs did ban Baffert from entering horses until the matter is resolved.
If they take him down, Medina Spirit would be the second Derby winner disqualified in the last three renewals, joining Maximum Security who was penalized for interference.
Baffert is no stranger to medication controversy in Kentucky. Gamine was disqualified from a third-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) following a betamethasone positive.
The scene shifts to Pimlico and the Preakness (G1) this weekend (May 15), and what a scene it will be. Baffert plans to run Medina Spirit and Concert Tour in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Maryland racing officials said they are looking into the report and will decide whether the horse will run based on a “review of the facts.”
The Hall of Fame trainer loves his visits to Baltimore, where he has won the Preakness a record-tying seven times. This time, though, the race will trigger a media frenzy among outlets who never cover racing but can’t resist a horse doping scandal.
Don’t be surprised if the animal right’s activists turn out in force, making a case that greedy trainers are drugging innocent horses.
There will be Baffert, right in the middle. That’s what happens when you have five horses flunk drug tests in the last year.
Baffert says he will fight the latest charges “tooth and nail” and that is his legal right.
In the bigger picture, it is racing that is fighting for credibility, for a perception of integrity before an increasingly skeptical world. The sport loses ground with every Baffert misstep.
It can’t afford to slide much further.
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.