Two hundred and ninety one days after Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards have overturned his win and disqualified the colt for testing positive for betamethasone after the race. In addition, trainer Bob Baffert was fined $7,500. His lawyers are now appealing this decision.
Mandaloun has been declared the winner and the $1.8 million first-place check, which was never paid out, will now go to Mandaloun’s owner, Juddmonte, the racing and breeding enterprise founded by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died last year. Perhaps the real losers in this situation are the betters. While those who backed Medina Spirit kept their winnings, those who supported Mandaloun are still left with losing tickets, a situation that has prompted a class-action lawsuit on their behalf.
The comments circulating about the decision for the most part support Medina Spirit as being the “real” winner. Certainly he crossed the finish line first. Certainly, he was a game horse who performed better than his breeding and initial price tag would have predicted. But unfortunately, he indisputably tested positive for a banned steroid, which made his disqualification a foregone conclusion.
Except, perhaps to Bob Baffert. Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, Baffert and his lawyers are appealing the decision.
“This is round one and we are going to fight this thing until the end,” owner Amr Zedan said. “Bob has my full support and backing. We’re going to do whatever it takes to vindicate ‘Medina’ and make sure he is declared the official winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby. We will see this through and do whatever it takes.”
Their argument appears to pivot on the assertion that the betamethasone picked up in Medina Spirit’s drug test, was the result of an ointment applied to a skin condition, rather than an injection, which they have argued is not a violation. They claim that Dr. George Maylin, director of the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory, tested a urine sample and confirmed the drug came from the ointment. Lawyers
The Kentucky Rules of Racing, Rule 8:010, Section 4, expressly permits trainers to administer ointments containing betamethasone under a rule captioned “Certain Permitted Substances,” which states that “ointments . . . and other products commonly used in the daily care of horses may be administered by a person, other than a licensed veterinarian if”: (1) The treatment does not include any drug, medication, or substance otherwise prohibited by this administrative regulation; (2) The treatment is not injected; and (3) The person is acting under the direction of a licensed trainer or veterinarian licensed to practice veterinary medicine in Kentucky
Betamethasone valerate is a permitted substance that can be administered to a horse. It was not injected. And it was administered at the direction of a veterinarian, who contemporaneously reported that treatment to a national database accessible to the KHRC prior to the Kentucky Derby. There was no rule violation.
The unrefuted and undisputed facts established at the hearing were: (1) Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection; (2) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not have affected the horse in any way; and (3) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not possibly have affected the outcome of the race.
“Teflon” Bob Baffert has a history of evading censure for rule violations. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But don’t hold your breath. The only other time a Derby was overturned because of a medication violation, with Forward Pass taking the victory from disqualified Dancer’s Image in 1968, the ensuing legal dispute lasted almost five years.
Baffert’s 90 day suspension for the use of betamethasone, which is a Class C drug, typically would warrant suspension for up to 10 days in Kentucky. The official ruling notes that the Medina Spirit positive was Baffert’s fourth medication violation within a year, which is why the penalty was increased to 90 days. In addition to the suspension for the drug violation, Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs, which would make horses trained by him ineligible to compete in the 2022 or 2023 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. He is also in the middle of a fight with the New York Racing Association, which is also attempting to ban him.
What do you think? Should Medina Spirit’s Derby win have been taken away from him?