Kentucky Derby sensation: Medina Spirit facing DQ after positive drug test for banned substance

Horse Racing Bob Baffert Medina Spirit failed drug test
Bob Baffert: broke news that Medina Spirit had failed drug test after winning Kentucky Derby. Photo: Breeders Cup/Eclipse Sportswire (Alex Evers)

By Jon Lees

USA: Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is facing disqualification after trainer Bob Baffert announced on Sunday that the colt had failed a drug test for a banned substance.

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In a sensational development Baffert revealed he had been hit with the “biggest gut punch in racing” when he was given the news from his assistant Jimmy Barnes.

Speaking at Churchill Downs in an interview livestreamed by the Paulick Report, Baffert said: “Jimmy Barnes called me to say he had some horrible news for me that he had been served by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that Medina Spirit, our Derby horse, had tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethazone. 

“All I can tell you is that even though it is an allowed drug, a therapeutic medication, we did not give it. Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethazone. So I cannot believe that I am here before you guys.”

He added: “Yesterday I got the biggest gut punch in racing for something that I didn’t do. It’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse. I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now but there’s something not right.

“I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was robbed. We are going to do our own investigation. We are going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we always are.”

Medina Spirit delivered Baffert his seventh Kentucky Derby victory at Churchill Downs, establishing his trainer as the most successful Kentucky Derby trainer of all time, one ahead of six-time winner Ben Jones.

Baffert said that no action would be taken against Medina Spirit until the split sample had been analysed. “He’s still the Derby winner but we have to go through that process,” he said.

But in a statement Churchill Downs confirmed what action would be taken should the split sample return the same result and also banned the trainer for making any entries while the investigation was under way.

Horse Racing Kentucky Derby
Victory in doubt: Mandaloun (second right) will be awarded the Kentucky Derby if Medina Spirit disqualified. Photo: Churchill Downs/Coady

“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols. The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so.

“To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.”

The statement continued: “Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate.
Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.

“Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissions’ investigation before taking further steps.”

It is the latest in a number of drug incidents that have embroiled Baffert. Last year Gamine tested positive for betamethasone after finishing third in Kentucky Oaks. In that case Baffert admitted she had received the treatment 18 days before the race. She was disqualified and Baffert was fined.

Horse Racing Bob Baffert John Velazquez
Bob Baffert and John Velazquez bask in Kentucky Derby victory with Medina Spirit. Photo: Churchill Downs/Coady

In another case last month Baffert succeeded in overturning the disqualification of Charlatan and Gamine in Arkansas and had a 15-day ban waived after blaming a contamination on their testing positive for an above-threshold amount of local anaesthetic lidocaine, which was attributed to a pain relief patch for back pain being worn by Barnes.

Unable to put forward an explanation for the Medina Spirit positive, Baffert suggested there was something else behind the sequence of  incidents. 

“”I’m not a conspiracy theorist – everybody is not out to get me – but why is this happening to me?” he said.,”There are problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.

“We win the most prestigious race in America. I am the most scrutinised trainer and have millions of eyes on me. I don’t have a problem with that. The last thing I want is do something which would jeopardise the greatest two minutes in sport.”

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