As the Triple Crown season heats up, one notable trainer has been sidelined. Churchill Downs banned trainer Bob Baffert for two years following the positive drug test that ultimately disqualified Medina Spirit. While the Hall of Fame trainer has a barn full of talented three year olds, but even as they win races, they are not receiving the qualifying points they need to earn a spot at the Kentucky Derby. In response, Baffert has filed suit against Churchill Downs, claiming his constitutional right to due process was violated.
In addition to his ban by Churchill Downs, Baffert is also fighting a 90 day suspension handed down by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) which is due to begin on March 8. While it is typical for racing commissions to offer a stay of suspension if a licensee is in the appeals process, the KHRC denied both a stay of suspension for trainer Bob Baffert and a stay of the decision to disqualify Medina Spirit from his win in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. When the decision was handed down, the KHRC suggested that the unusually long suspension was tied to the fact that the betamethasone found in Medina Spirit’s drug test was Baffert’s fourth medication violation in 365 days in any racing jurisdiction.
While the amount of betamethasone discovered was unlikely to have had any effect on the colt’s performance, public perception has played a big part in the debate. If the levels of betamasone exceeded the limit set in Kentucky (which they did), it makes no difference if it impacted the colt’s performance or whether it was absorbed from a topical ream or injected. If Baffert skates on a technicality, his “Teflon Bob” moniker might further damage horse racing.
Baffert has wielded unmatched clout when regulators have discovered banned or excessive substances in his horses. Before his Kentucky Derby-winning colt, Medina Spirit, tested positive for betamethasone last month — which could erase the victory — his horses were cited for drug-related violations 29 times, according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). But until now, those violations, some of which Baffert has succeeded in getting overturned or reduced, have resulted in roughly $20,000 in fines against $321 million in career earnings. Baffert’s lawyers have made explicit that he will accept fines but not a suspension, and state regulators have continually obliged him.The dark side of Bob Baffert’s reign
Baffert’s lawyers argue that the penalty was excessive for the alleged offense and that denying the stay will cause irreparable harm as he was denied the chance to assert a defense before being labeled as a cheater and therefore has been unlawfully excluded from the Kentucky Derby.
“This is unprecedented in my experience. Stays are routinely granted pending an appeal. This is because it is manifestly unfair to make a trainer serve suspension days now when the penalty that imposed that suspension may be reversed later.”Craig robertson, attorney for bob baffert
CDI has issued a statement calling Baffert’s claims “meritless and consistent with his pattern of failed drug tests, denials, excuses and attempts to blame others and identify loopholes in order to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.”
Baffert wants an injunction that would keep Churchill Downs from denying his horses entry into races there and at Turfway Park, in Florence, Ky., and from prohibiting him from earning points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He also wants Churchill Downs to recognize qualifying points that his horses have already earned. The suit also seeks millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
What do you think? Should the suspension hold? Or should Baffert be allowed to run his colts in the Derby?