© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

Churchill Downs Suspends Baffert For 2 Years; Derby Win In Jeopardy

Medina Spirit and John Velazquez, former winners of the 147th Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has since disqualified them.
Medina Spirit and John Velazquez, former winners of the 147th Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has since disqualified them.

Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert is barred from competing at Churchill Downs through the 2023 spring meet, the racetrack announced Wednesday.

The decision came hours after confirmation that 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed another drug test. Churchill Downs had already suspended Baffert “indefinitely” upon learning of the first failed test soon after the Derby.

In a statement, Churchill Downs, Inc., CEO Bill Carstanjen said he supports strict regulation of medications both for the safety of horses and jockeys, and the fairness of the races.

“Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility,” he said.   

Baffert has faced scrutiny over doping before.

The statement said Churchill Downs could choose to extend the suspension in the case that Baffert commits additional violations anywhere. The current suspension applies to any trainers directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables.

Baffert’s lawyer said a split-sample test of the Kentucky Derby winner came back positive for the presence of the steroid betamethasone. Asked for comment on the suspension, attorney Craig Robertson said he does not represent Baffert on matters related to Churchill Downs. 

Robertson said earlier Wednesday that additional testing is being conducted to try to trace the source of the drug to an ointment and not an injection. A lawyer for Medina Spirit’s owner said the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will send the original blood and urine tests to an independent, accredited laboratory for further testing, the New York Times reported.

“We expect this additional testing to confirm that the presence of the betamethasone was from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not an injection,” Robertson said in an emailed statement.

Baffert announced the failure of an initial post-race drug test a week after the Derby. At the time, he said Medina Spirit tested positive for more than double the allowed limit of betamethasone. 

A few days later, Baffert said Medina Spirit received an antifungal ointment treatment that contained the steroid the day before the race.

The horse ran in the Preakness Stakes last month, placing third.

The New York Racing Association has suspended Baffert until Kentucky hands down a ruling about Medina Spirit. That means the horse will miss the third Triple Crown race, the Belmont stakes, this weekend.

The Churchill Downs statement said the KHRC is the only entity that could disqualify Medina Spirit, and that the matter is under investigation.

If Medina Spirit is disqualified, Mandaloun would be elevated as the winner of the Derby.

A spokesperson for  the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

WFPL News contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.