Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit could be disqualified after failing postrace drug test; trainer banned

Sports

Jockey John Velazquez, left, watches as trainer Bob Baffert holds up the winner’s trophy after they victory with Medina Spirit in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Medina Spirit’s victory in the Kentucky Derby is in serious jeopardy because of a positive postrace drug test, one that prompted Churchill Downs to suspend Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert immediately on Sunday in the latest scandal to plague the sport.

Baffert denied all wrongdoing and promised to be fully transparent with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission during its investigation. Baffert’s barn received word Saturday that Medina Spirit had tested positive for an excessive amount of the steroid betamethasone, which is sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses.

Medina Spirit’s win over Mandaloun in the Derby stands — for now.

“To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner,” Churchill Downs officials said in a statement shortly after Baffert held a hastily planned morning news conference outside his barn to respond to the latest allegation.

The track said that failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of horses and jockeys, the sport’s integrity and the Derby’s reputation.

“Churchill Downs will not tolerate it,” the statement read. “Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”

Medina Spirit is expected to run in the Preakness on Saturday, barring some abrupt change in plans or a decision from officials at Pimlico or Maryland’s racing commission that would prevent him from entering the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Flanked by his attorney Craig Robertson in a morning news conference at Churchill Downs on Sunday, Baffert said Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of the steroid betamethasone, double the legal threshold in Kentucky racing, in a postrace sample.

That is the same drug that was found in the system of Gamine, another Baffert-trained horse who finished third in the Kentucky Oaks last September.

Baffert denied any wrongdoing and said he did not know how Medina Spirit could have tested positive. He said Medina Spirit has never been treated with betamethasone and called it “a complete injustice.”

John Velazquez riding Medina Spirit throws a rose after his victory in the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

“I got the biggest gut-punch in racing, for something I didn’t do,” said Baffert, who vowed to be transparent with racing investigators.

Baffert said his camp received the word of the positive test from Kentucky officials on Saturday. Baffert said Medina Spirit has not yet been officially disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, though that still could happen after other tests and processes are completed.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” Baffert said. “There’s a problem somewhere. It didn’t come from us.”

Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby on May 1 by a half-length over Mandaloun, giving Baffert his recordsetting seventh victory in the race that starts the Triple Crown season. Medina Spirit is still expected to race in the Preakness, the Triple Crown’s second jewel, on Saturday.

“He ran a gallant race,” Baffert said.

Last month, Baffert won an appeals case before the Arkansas Racing Commission, which had suspended him for 15 days for a pair of positive drug tests involving two of his horses that won at Oaklawn Park on May 2, 2020. The horses tested positive for lidocaine, a painkiller, which Baffert said they were exposed to inadvertently.

“There’s problems in racing,” Baffert said. “But it’s not Bob Baffert.”

John Velazquez riding Medina Spirit leads Florent Geroux on Mandaloun, Flavien Prat riding Hot Rod Charlie and Luis Saez on Essential Quality to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The New York Times said in November 2020 that Baffert-trained horses have failed at least 29 drug tests in his four-decade career.

“I’m worried about our sport,” Baffert said. “Our sport, we’ve taken a lot of hits as a sport. These are pretty serious accusations here, but we’re going to get to the bottom of it and find out. We know we didn’t do it.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed.

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