The horse racing world was rocked with word that Medina Spirit tested positive for an anti-inflammatory substance after winning the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Bob Baffert said the colt has never been treated with betamethasone, making the positive even more puzzling.
Medina Spirit has not been disqualified yet. They will send the split sample to an independent laboratory and if it comes back negative, no harm, no foul except for the headlines that have already damaged Baffert’s reputation.
If it comes back positive then a prolonged process will play out wherein the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will hold a hearing and rule on the case. If Baffert loses that, then Medina Spirit will be disqualified and an appeal process will play out.
Here are some answers to key questions about Medina Spirit, Baffert and what’s next.
Will Medina Spirit run in the Preakness?
There is every reason to believe he will. The Maryland Jockey Club issued a statement saying it will examine the situation but there is no way they will deny the horse entry into the Preakness until the split sample is tested. It doesn’t want to deal with those legal bills.
Does the Baffert defense sound plausible?
It’s pretty specific and something that can be backed up with records. It’s one thing to say the metabolite didn’t process through the system fast enough and another to say the horse was never administered the drug. His defense is the most provable with paperwork and his attorney, Craig Robertson, is one of the best in equine law.
Could the drug have helped Medina Spirit win the Derby?
In short, no. It’s a drug that’s used to alleviate joint pain, it’s not a performance enhancer.
Is 21 picograms a lot?
A picogram is a trillionth of a gram. The allowable limit in Kentucky is 10 picograms. The KHRC says 14 days is the amount of time to get betamethasone out of a horse’s system. But, in this case, Baffert says the horse was never administered this drug.
What about Baffert’s other medication penalties last year?
In all cases, the prohibitive substances were legal and not considered performance enhancing. But the amount that was found in each horse was in excess of state limits. Taking each case individually, the explanations seem to be plausible, a conclusion backed up by the Arkansas Racing Commission. But, the collective weight of all the violations begs the question if the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Clearly, the perception Baffert is dealing with is yes.
Should Churchill Downs have banned Baffert from entering horses?
It’s their track and presumably they can do what they want, much like Santa Anita did to Jerry Hollendorfer two years ago when they banned him after a series of horse deaths. But that case is still in litigation. Still, it seems with no split sample back, Churchill’s move could be considered premature. Since Baffert has only a small string of horses in Louisville, it’s mostly a symbolic gesture, not a financially impactful one.
How good is Medina Spirit?
Medina Spirit and Baffert are both based at Santa Anita. Baffert lives in La Cañada Flintridge and has been very supportive of Southern California tracks for decades. The 3-year-old colt was probably the third-best horse in Baffert’s barn behind Life Is Good, who was injured, and Concert Tour, who ran poorly in the Arkansas Derby. (He will run in the Preakness.) Medina Spirit has won three races and finished second three times.
Was Medina Spirit a legitimate Triple Crown contender?
Probably, no. Before the Kentucky Derby, Baffert told The Times, “He’s not the best horse in the race.” And that sentiment was genuine. However, everything broke perfect for the colt and he was able to win the race. It would not be surprising to see stablemate Concert Tour the favorite for the Preakness. However, with many of the top horses electing to bypass the middle leg of the Triple Crown, his chances of winning have gotten better. The final leg is the Belmont Stakes, at 1½ miles, three weeks after the Preakness.
What happens if Medina Spirit is disqualified?
The horse would likely be unplaced, as if he never ran the race. The purse money would then be redistributed and Baffert would likely have a hefty suspension and fine. Suspensions anywhere in North America are honored by other jurisdictions. His horse would probably be transferred to the name of his chief assistant, Jimmy Barnes, and returned to Baffert when the suspension is over. If the suspension were to be for a significant amount of time, Baffert, 68, would have to consider if he still wants to keep playing in this game.
If Medina Spirit is disqualified, it would not change any of the mutual payoffs.
Who would be the winner of the Kentucky Derby if Medina Spirit is disqualified?
Mandaloun finished second and would be elevated to first, much like Country House was after Maximum Security was disqualified two years ago. However, if you hold a ticket on Mandaloun, you are out of luck. All the pari-mutuels were final on Kentucky Derby day. But it could make a nice souvenir.
When will this be decided?
If the split sample comes back in a couple of weeks and it is negative, it will be done then. If it comes back positive, don’t be surprised for this case to last for a couple of years.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.