Churchill Downs suspends trainer Bob Baffert for two years after horse’s failed drug test


Churchill Downs has suspended Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert for two years after his horse, Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, failed a second drug test, the racing company announced Wednesday. The colt could soon become the second horse in the Derby’s history to be disqualified over a failed drug test.

“Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated,” Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., said in a statement.

Carstanjen said that Baffert’s record of “testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby.”

“Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility,” Carstanjen said. 

Earlier Wednesday, Baffert’s attorney W. Craig Robertson III said a second drug test found 25 picograms of betamethasone, a corticosteroid used to suppress inflammation, which is banned on race days. The attorney said Otomax — an anti-fungal ointment containing steroids often used to treat ear infections in animals — was being used topically for a skin rash on the racehorse.

“There is other testing that is being conducted, including DNA testing,” Robertson said. “We expect this additional testing to confirm that the presence of the betamethasone was from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not an injection.”

An investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is ongoing. In 1968, Dancer’s Image became the only horse to be disqualified for medical violations after winning the Derby.

Bob Baffert
This May 1, 2019, photo, shows trainer Bob Baffert in Louisville.

Charlie Riedel / AP


Throughout his four decades of racing, Baffert’s horses have been flagged with at least 30 medication violations, the Associated Press reported. Medina Spirit is Baffert’s fifth horse within a year to fail a drug test and betamethasone was found in another one of his horses last year. Some of his violations were overturned on appeal. 

Last month, Churchill Downs initially suspended him from entering horses at the track after Medina Spirit’s first positive drug test. The company threatened to invalidate Medina Spirit’s win if the results of the first test were upheld. 

“Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate,” the company said at the time. 

After the first positive test, Baffert said the horse was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone, which is double Kentucky’s legal threshold, the AP reported. Though he initially disputed the results and blamed “cancel culture,” Baffert later acknowledged the ointment could explain the results. He was also suspended by the New York Racing Association and barred from entering the Belmont Stakes.



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