New York suspends Bob Baffert amid Kentucky Derby probe

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)

Bob Baffert was suspended Monday from entering horses at New York racetracks, pending an investigation into Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed postrace drug test.

Baffert will temporarily not be allowed to stable any horses at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course or run any of his horses at the New York Racing Association’s tracks. That ban includes races at Belmont Park, with the Belmont Stakes coming up June 5.

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

Baffert had not committed to entering any horses in the third leg of the Triple Crown but had many in consideration for other races on Belmont Stakes day.

NYRA officials say they took into account Baffert’s previous penalties in Kentucky, California and Arkansas, along with the current situation with Medina Spirit, and expects to make a final determination about the length and terms of the suspension based in information revealed by Kentucky’s ongoing investigation.

Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, said in an email to The Associated Press that he is reviewing NYRA’s decision and will discuss the situation and legal options with his client before their camp makes any formal statement.

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone in postrace testing and faces disqualification unless a second test comes back negative. Baffert on May 9 said 21 picograms of the corticosteroid, which can be used to help a horse’s joints, showed up in the blood sample.

Baffert a day later said an ointment used to treat Medina Spirit for a skin condition daily up until the Derby included the substance. Even a trace amount of betamethasone in a horse’s system is not allowed on race day in Kentucky, Maryland and New York.

Maryland officials required Medina Spirit and Baffert-trained Preakness runner Concert Tour and Black-Eyed Susan entrant Beautiful Gift undergo three rounds of prerace testing before they’d be allowed to run last weekend at Pimlico. All three passed and were cleared to race.

Medina Spirit finished third and Concert Tour ninth in the Preakness on Saturday. Beautiful Gift was seventh in the Black-Eyed Susan on Friday.

Baffert has had five violations involving impermissible levels of medication in his horses over the past 13 months. He was fined in Kentucky and Arkansas and avoided a suspension in Arkansas following appeal.

Activist Marty Irby of the Animal Wellness Action applauded NYRA’s decision, saying the organization is “elated to see the State of New York continues to make the welfare of the horse, and eradicating cheaters from the industry, a top priority.”

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