Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit fails drug test

‘I was totally shocked when I heard this news’ says controversial American horse trainer

Medina Spirit (R) wins the Kentucky Derby under John Velazquez. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty

Medina Spirit (R) wins the Kentucky Derby under John Velazquez. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty

 

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test, once more putting the practices of his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert under uncomfortable scrutiny.

The colt cannot be disqualified until a split sample confirms the result. Baffert will then have an opportunity to appeal.

In a news conference Sunday morning outside of his barn at Churchill Downs, Baffert said neither he nor anyone on his team administered the drug betamethasone to Medina Spirit.

“I was totally shocked when I heard this news,” Baffert said. “I’m still trying to absorb it. I am the most scrutinised trainer. And I am okay with that. The last thing I want to do is something that would jeopardise the greatest sport.”

He added: “I’m worried about the sport,” said Baffert. “This is a pretty serious accusation. We’re doing to get to the bottom of it. We didn’t do it.”

With Medina Spirit’s victory, Baffert won his seventh Kentucky Derby, surpassing the record set by Ben Jones, who collected his blankets of roses in 1938, 1941, 1944, 1948, 1949 and 1952.

The positive test, however, adds to the questions surrounding Baffert. Regulators in Arkansas last month upheld a ruling that a banned substance had been found in two of his horses, but they decided to reduce his penalty from a suspension to a fine.

Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling. It is the same substance found last year in Baffert’s Gamine after the filly finished third in the Kentucky Oaks. Gamine was disqualified and her owners were denied the purse for her third place finish. Baffert was fined $1,500.

Baffert has gained the enmity of rivals who believe that he has persistently cheated, suspicions fueled by 30 drug tests failed by his horses over four decades, including five in the past six months.

The cases took months, if not years, to adjudicate and were met mostly with modest fines or brief suspensions, as Baffert asserted he did nothing wrong and blamed the results on environmental contamination or human error.

Last year, facing mounting criticism, he apologised for the violations and promised to be more vigilant in the future.

“I am very aware of the several incidents this year concerning my horses and the impact it has had on my family, horse racing, and me,” Baffert said in a statement. “I want to have a positive influence on the sport of horse racing. Horses have been my life and I owe everything to them and the tremendous sport in which I have been so fortunate to be involved.” - NYT

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