January 29, 2023

Baffert Sues New York Racing Officials Over ‘Impulsive’ Ban

Bob Baffert, the trainer of the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, sued the New York Racing Association on Monday for banning him from competing at the three tracks it operates, saying in an affidavit it “will effectively put me out of business in the State of New York.”

The association barred Baffert from entering horses or stabling them at the Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct racetracks after Medina Spirit’s post-Derby drug test was positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid that is injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn, Baffert said the suspension was unconstitutional and that he wanted it lifted so horses in his high-powered barn could race in lucrative and prestigious races in Saratoga this summer and at Belmont in the fall.

“NYRA’s impulsive decision to deprive Baffert of his professional livelihood within the State of New York is one that it had no legal authority to make,” the complaint said.

Neither Baffert nor his lawyer, W. Craig Robertson III, returned calls seeking comment.

Medina Spirit, Baffert’s colt, faces disqualification from the Derby — and the horse’s owner faces the loss of a more than $1.8 million first-place check — after two tests following his victory were positive for the anti-inflammatory drug.

After floating various theories — including contamination, a conspiracy targeting him and “cancel culture” — Baffert acknowledged that he was responsible: He said he treated Medina Spirit with the antifungal ointment Otomax without knowing it contained betamethasone.

N.Y.R.A. barred Baffert from its tracks on May 17. After Medina Spirit’s second test came back positive on June 2, Churchill Downs suspended him for two years, including the Derby in 2022 and 2023.

“NYRA took this action to protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” Pat McKenna, a spokesman for the association, said Monday. “In making the determination to temporarily suspend Mr. Baffert, NYRA took into account the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas.”

At least five of Baffert’s horses have failed drug tests in a little over one year, and he has had 30 failed tests in his career.

Still, a possible disqualification is months away and destined to be tied up in the courts for years. First, racing officials will conduct a hearing and issue a ruling. If they disqualify Medina Spirit and either suspend or fine Baffert, he could appeal to the full commission. If the unfavorable ruling is still not overturned, he could pursue a remedy in civil court.

In 1968, the Derby victory of Dancer’s Image was taken away after a drug test showed the presence of a banned anti-inflammatory. It took four years before Dancer’s Image was irrevocably disqualified.

The fallout from the failed test and legal squabbling appears to be hindering Baffert’s business. One of his more loyal owners, Spendthrift Farm, moved six of its horses from Baffert’s barn. Last year, he trained its colt Authentic to a 2020 Derby victory.

Three other horses formerly trained by Baffert were left in Kentucky in the care of Rodolphe Brisset by their owners.

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