Echoing arguments previously stated by his attorneys, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continued his defense in a media interview related to his ongoing suspension stemming from the late Medina Spirit failing a drug test following last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
The positive test ultimately resulted in Baffert receiving a $7,500 fine, a 90-day suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and Medina Spirit being stripped of first place. Churchill Downs Inc. has also barred Baffert from its tracks through June of next year.
Speaking with ESPN’s Marty Smith in the first of a two-part interview that aired May 6, he said great immediately concerned when he first heard of the positive test, about a week after the Derby.
“This is going to be horrible,” Baffert said. “A positive in the Kentucky Derby. That’s the worst thing that can happen to a horse trainer. My mind was going 100 miles. It was a pretty, pretty bad day for me.”
Also in the interview, Baffert contested the notion that betamethasone, the drug Baffert says Medina Spirit tested positive for via a corticosteroid ointment called anti-fungal cream Otomax, had any impact on the race.
“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission does not prohibit or regulate Otomax ointment containing betamethasone, that’s one thing we found out,” Baffert said. “You won’t find a scientist that will tell you Otomax ointment containing betamethasone will change a horse’s performance so it had zero impact.”
The KHRC disputes that contention, noting that its rules do not differentiate between betamethasone valerate, which is in Otomax, or betamethasone acetate, the type of betamethasone used in joint injections that are given to horses and are permitted 14 days before racing. Courts have not granted Baffert a stay in his court battle contesting the KHRC decision.
Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 micrograms of the drug per milliliter of blood.
Baffert’s claim of no impact is in contrast to testimony given in January by Dr. Pierre-Louis Toutain, who is self-described as a “veterinarian specializing in veterinary pharmacology.” When asked during Baffert’s hearing against the New York Racing Association which sought to suspend him for the positive test, Toutain said of whether the drug at the levels found in the horse would aid performance, “Definitively, yes.”
Betamethasone and other medications are also prohibited on race day to avoid masking lameness.
Baffert said he has never knowingly cheated or circumvented the rules, despite other horses under his care having tested positive for therapeutic medications prohibited for racing.
He also stated he has not been given the opportunity to tell his side of the story. BloodHorse has attempted to contact Baffert on multiple occasions and the only statements were made via his attorneys.
“People were getting wrong information. And this was going on so fast,” Baffert said. “The Kentucky Derby I mean, the coverage and everybody just ran with a false narrative. They’re still running the false narrative. And it takes a while to change that, especially the biased, you know, reporting against me.”
Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit died Dec. 6 at Santa Anita Park at the conclusion of a workout from what Baffert and the California Horse Racing Board suspect was a heart attack. Experts do not believe betamethasone treatment from last spring could have contributed to his sudden death this past winter.
The second part of the interview airs May 7 at 7 am ET during ESPN’s SportsCenter.