Bob Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs after a second post-race sample confirmed the presence of betamethasone, a pain-reducing steroid injected into joints, in the blood of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.
The suspension bars Baffert, and any trainer employed by Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races Churchill Downs-owned racetracks.
“Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated," Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement.
"Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”
The news of the confirmed test result was first reported by the New York Times and was confirmed to Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde by Clark Brewster, the lawyer representing Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan. The Saudi Arabian owner stands to lose more than $1.8 million in prize money if the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) moves to disqualify Medina Spirit and crown runner-up Mandaloun as the winner.
Brewster also said that the KHRC has agreed to send the original tests to an independent laboratory for further analysis to determine if they contain other contaminants that could potentially prove to be the source of the topical ointment Otomax rather than an injection.
“In response to the inquiries, this will acknowledge that the Medina Spirit split sample confirmed the finding of betamethasone at 25 picograms," Brewster said in a statement obtained by CNBC. "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. At the end of the day, we anticipate this case to be about the treatment of Medina Spirit’s skin rash with Otomax. We will have nothing further to say until the additional testing is complete."
Baffert was previously suspended by the New York Racing Association, which runs this weekend's Belmont Stakes, after the positive drug test. Baffert's horses have failed four drug tests in the last 14 months.
In the immediate aftermath of the initial positive test, Baffert vehemently denied administering the drug, blaming "cancel culture" for the controversy. However, the California-based trainer later posited that the failed test may have resulted from applying Otomax to treat a skin rash on Medina Spirit leading up to the Derby.
If disqualified, Medina Spirit would become the second horse in Kentucky Derby to be disqualified for a failed drug test. According to CNBC, the KHRC has refused to comment on the second sample and any potential action until the investigation is complete.
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