By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Legendary trainer Bob Baffert has been temporarily banned from New York tracks as the recriminations continue after the positive post-race dope test returned by Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.
Following the news that has rocked the US racing community to its core, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) on Monday announced that California-based Baffert – one of the most recognisable faces in the racing world – would not be allowed to enter horses in races nor occupy stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct.
“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA president and CEO.
“That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”
Medina Spirit, who beat Mandaloun a half-length at Churchill Downs, now faces disqualification owing to a positive test for the corticosteroid betamethasone. Baffert is now awaiting the results of a second sample tested at another laboratory; if that split sample produces a similar result, then Medina Spirit will be disqualified.
Churchill Downs has already suspended Baffert’s licence, and now NYRA – the most prestigious circuit in the country – has followed suit. The news means he is unlikely to be able to saddle any runners on the G1-laden Belmont Stakes card on June 5.
A release posted on the NYRA website explained the decision, citing Baffert’s recent history of positive tests as factor.
It read: “In addition to the ongoing investigation into Medina Spirit’s victory in the Kentucky Derby, NYRA has taken 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.
“During the temporary suspension, NYRA will not accept entries or provide stall space to any individual employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables.”
NYRA added that it expects to make a final determination regarding the duration of Baffert’s suspension “based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation in Kentucky, such as the post-Kentucky Derby test results of Medina Spirit”.
Baffert’s runners were allowed to run at Pimlico over Preakness Stakes weekend only after undergoing stringent pre-race testing and beefed-up scrutiny. Given the all-clear, Medina Spirit finished third to surprise winner Rombauer in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Baffert did not visit Baltimore, preferring to stay in California. However, he issued a statement before the race apologising for the manner in which he handled the news.
The Hall of Fame trainer initially denied Medina Spirit had received any treatment containing the corticosteroid betamethasone only to admit later the colt had been given an ointment for dermatitis.
“I acknowledge that I am not perfect, and I could have better handled the initial announcement of this news,” he said.
• Visit the NYRA website