By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has finally been given the go-ahead to run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes after trainer Bob Baffert consented to beefed-up pre-race scrutiny of his runners at Pimlico this weekend.
Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour are set to feature among a ten-runner field for the second leg of the Triple Crown, while Baffert will also saddle Beautiful Gift in the G2 Black-Eyed Susan on Friday.
However, following the shock news that Medina Spirit had tested positive following his Kentucky Derby success, all three horses will be subject to blood-testing, monitoring and medical review by the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC).
All three were tested on arrival at the Baltimore track, and Baffert has agreed to “full transparency of medical and testing results that will allow for all results to be released to the public”, according to an MJC statement.
Baffert’s counsel Craig Robertson had spoken of possible legal action if Medina Spirit was not allowed to run.
He also distributed a statement to media sources confirming the agreement under which Medina Spirit and his stablemates will be able to run.
“The integrity of the sport is of the upmost importance to Mr. Baffert and by consenting to this testing regimen and monitoring he reaffirms his commitment and dedication to the sport,” said Robertson.
News of Medina Spirit’s positive test for the corticosteroid betamethasone after the Kentucky Derby has rocked the US racing community, which now awaits the results of a second sample tested at another laboratory.
If that test also finds betamethasone above the permitted raceday level, then Medina Spirit faces disqualification.
Baffert, one of the most recognisable faces in the racing world, has already been banned from making further entries at Churchill Downs until further notice.
The west-coast legend has protested his innocence and blamed “cancel culture” for the positive test, which involved an ‘overage’ of trace amounts of a substance banned on raceday. Given the tiny amounts at the centre of the controversy, he suggested the sample or even the horse himself could easily have been contaminated.
However, Baffert said on Tuesday that the positive test may have been the result of exposure from an ointment that was applied to the colt for dermatitis on his hind end that developed after he was second in last month’s Santa Anita Derby.
According to Baffert, his staff began treating Medina Spirit with anti-fungal ointment Otomax on veterinary advice. He said he did not know the ointment contained betamethasone – used legitimately to treat inflammation but banned on raceday – until after the positive test came to light, after which he launched a thorough investigation.
Owner Amr Zedan supported Baffert’s claims and said: “I have reviewed the picture of the rash and fully understand the need for care and the good faith intentions in using the ointment supplied by the veterinarian.
“I want to express my full trust and support for Bob Baffert as we cheer on Medina Spirit in the 146th running of the Preakness this weekend.”
Drawn three of ten, Medina Spirit (John Velazquez) has been installed 9-5 morning-line favourite with Concert Tour (Mike Smith) next best at 5-2 from the outside gate.
Baffert has won the race seven times, a record-equalling haul; D Wayne Lukas, who has won six Preaknesses, is represented by longshot Ram.
• Visit the Preakness Stakes website