The “B” sample of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has tested positive for betamethasone, at a prohibited level, putting his Derby win in contention. Trainer Bob Baffert chose a laboratory at the University of California, Davis, from a list of approved labs, to perform the second test.
In response to the findings, Churchill Downs immediately suspended Baffert, a seven-time winner of the Derby, from entering horses at the racetrack in Louisville, Ky., for two years, including the Derby races in 2022 and 2023, for “reckless practices and substance violations.” Churchill Downs also cited Baffert’s “increasingly extraordinary explanations” as a reason for suspending him. Baffert is also currently banned from entering horses in races and occupying stalls in New York racetracks, including Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct.
Medina Spirit has not yet been disqualified from the Kentucky Derby; that decision is, at a minimum, months away and may take years. The only other Derby winner to be disqualified for a drug violation happened in 1968, when a drug test of Dancer’s Image showed the presence of Phenylbutazone, a banned anti-inflammatory. It took four years before Dancer’s Image was irrevocably disqualified.
While Baffert initially claimed that Medina Spirit had not been treated with betamethasone, he later amended his statement to say that the horse had been treated with Otomax, an antifungal agent for a rash. Otomax contains betamethasone. According to Clark Brewster, the lawyer representing Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has agreed to send the original blood and urine tests to an independent and accredited laboratory for analysis to determine whether the specimens contain other components proving the source to be the topical ointment.
The question remains whether it matters if the contamination was intentional or inadvertent. A trainer is responsible for the horses he runs. After a series of positive tests in 2020, Baffert publicly said that “he has to do better” and that he would hire a veterinarian to monitor all the meds throughout his entire barn. If the contamination occurred from the anti-fungal ointment, clearly this didn’t happen. In fact, a trainer running horses at this level should be supervising every product (and feed) that his horses come into contact with — or should have a team of people keeping watch and reporting back to him.
So, what happens if Medina Spirit is DQ’d?
If Medina Spirit is disqualified, his connections (owner, trainer and jockey) will forfeit the more than $1.8 million he won and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.
However, for the betting public, there will be no refunds and no chance to collect on behalf of the new winner. Once a race has been declared official (Maximum Security was disqualified before the race was declared official, so in that case, the people who bet on Country House collected their winnings) a few minutes after it is over, the betting is final.
What do you think about the Derby controversy?