The sports story of the day should have been, “Famed Trainer Takes Unheralded Horse and Wins Kentucky Derby.” Instead, the story devolved into failed drug tests and disgrace.
Even with the events that transpired following America’s most famous horse race, trainer Bob Baffert still entered Kentucky Derby champ Medina Spirit in the second leg of the Triple Crown, where the horse finished third.
Now, New York is standing up to Baffert in a way Kentucky and Maryland didn’t, banning him from racing in the state.
Bob Baffert is the most successful Triple Crown horse racing trainer of all time
Baffert, 68, once told CNN, “If there’s a heaven it’s in that (Churchill Downs) winner’s circle.” He should know. The trainer has stood in that circle a record seven times, which is more than any other in the history of horse racing.
Baffert trained his first Kentucky Derby horse in 1996 and came in second. The following year, his horse Silver Charm won the Derby and was a second-place finish in the Belmont away from the vaunted Triple Crown.
The Arizona-born-and-raised trainer would experience the same results the next year as well. In 1998, Real Quiet won the first two Triple Crown races before again coming in second in the final race on the Long Island/Queens border.
In 2002 War Emblem would get to the exact same spot. The big breakthrough for Baffert, though, eventually came in 2015 when American Pharaoh joined the ranks of the most famous Triple Crown winners ever: Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and Man O’ War.
It wouldn’t be the last trifecta for the white-haired, sunglasses-wearing trainer. In 2018, he won the Triple Crown for a second time with Justify, a descendent of Seattle Slew.
Baffert’s Kentucky Derby-winning horse tested positive for banned substances
Steroid scandals are nothing new in sports, but it makes you sit up and take notice when it involves a horse instead of a human.
This is precisely what happened following the 2021 Kentucky Derby. After Baffert and Medina Spirit graced the winner’s circle, news came out that the horse tested positive for a banned steroid called betamethasone. The drug is a “corticosteroid sometimes used to relieve joint pain.”
The Derby incident isn’t the first time a Baffert horse got popped for this steroid recently, either. A horse named Gamine tested positive last year.
In all, four Baffert horses have failed drug tests during the previous 12 months. One instance even led to a 15-day suspension from the Arkansas Racing Commission.
For his part, Baffert seems to have an excuse every time. After Gamine tested positive, he pledged to stop using betamethasone. These excuses are getting harder to buy, though.
After Medina Spirit tested positive, Baffert blamed “a groom’s urine and cancel culture” for the incident.
New York just banned Baffert from all races, including the Belmont
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Medina Spirit is still officially the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The state’s racing association is awaiting a second blood test’s results before they make a final decision. With no decision from Kentucky, the Maryland racing authorities let Medina Spirit run the Preakness. Baffert decided not to attend.
Less than three weeks ahead of the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) suspended Baffert from New York racetracks, including Belmont, which hosts the Belmont Stakes on June 5.
In a statement released May 17, the NYRA announced:
The (NYRA) today announced the temporary suspension of Bob Baffert from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack… Mr. Baffert publicly acknowledged that the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid that would trigger a disqualification and loss of purse money should a split sample return the same finding.
The statement went on to say that it wasn’t just the Medina Spirit situation that led to the suspension. The NYRA continues to explain their process, saying that they also have “taken into account the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past.”
This suspension is a major blow to Baffert and his legendary status in the horseracing game.
According to ESPN, the trainer didn’t plan to enter a horse in the main event in New York in June, but there are “many in consideration for other races on Belmont Stakes day.”