Del Mar punishes trainers Bob Baffert and Val Brinkeroff for medication violations

Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert watches horses take part in training runs at Santa Anita.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Del Mar stewards finished the short Fall meeting Sunday by fining trainer Bob Baffert for a medication violation and suspending trainer Val Brinkeroff 45 days for a positive test for another medication more than a year ago.

Baffert, the most recognizable figure in the sport, was fined $2,500 after Merneith tested positive for Dextrorphan, a metabolite often found in cough remedies. The drug is a Class 4 violation. The most severe are Class 1 and the least impactful are Class 5. Class 4 contains many therapeutic medications.

Merneith, a 3-year-old filly, finished second in an allowance race at Del Mar on July 25, which is when the sample was collected. A split sample tested later had the same result. At a hearing Nov. 11, Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney, made the case that the horse was accidentally exposed to cough medicine taken by a groom who had the coronavirus. Groom William Alonzo testified at the hearing as did Dr. Stephen Barker, a retired professor from Louisiana State University who often appears as an expert witness in medication cases.

Baffert recently announced a series of new barn protocols and oversight in a year, which in addition to Merneith, two other horses had a combined three medication positives. Merneith is the only horse that had a violation in Southern California, where Baffert runs his stable. The cases are in various stages of adjudication and appeals.

Robertson said that Baffert does not plan to appeal the decision.


Brinkerhoff’s suspension and fine of $3,000 dealt with Girl Can Partie, who finished first in a maiden claiming race at Del Mar on Aug. 1, 2019. The then 3-year-old filly was subsequently disqualified and placed last with purse money stripped. Girl Can Partie tested positive for Metaproterenol, which is used to aid in breathing and is a Class 3 drug.

First, there were no racing and training deaths, matching what Santa Anita did in its abbreviated meeting.

The added penalty was because investigators found a syringe in Brinkerhoff’s truck. The trainer told the Daily Racing Form that the syringe was a precaution for colic while the horse was being shipped north to Emerald Downs. Brinkerhoff did not show up for his Nov. 6, 2020, hearing before the stewards. He told DRF that he does not plan to appeal. The suspension begins Dec. 7 and ends Jan. 20.

The end of Del Mar’s meeting Sunday was the second straight major thoroughbred meet in Southern California without a racing or training death. Santa Anita’s short Fall meeting also had no exercise-induced fatalities. The last horse to die racing or training was Sept. 5 at Del Mar.

Del Mar, despite allowing no fans to be in attendance, had a very successful meeting with pari-mutuel handle up 33%.

On Monday, Santa Anita made two major management changes naming Nate Newby as general manager, replacing Aidan Butler who was moved to the East Coast to take over racing operations there. Newby has been with Santa Anita for 20 years and most recently was assistant general manager and head of marketing.

Chris Merz will be taking over the racing secretary duties from Steve Lym, who will become an assistant to Butler. Merz has spent much of his career in Southern California and was just brought back to Santa Anita after running the racing scheduled at the Maryland Jockey Club.

In Northern California, Golden Gate Fields will not reopen Thursday after suspending racing for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak on the backstretch. No restart date was announced. The meeting is scheduled to end Dec. 13.

Daytime racing in Southern California moves to the smaller Los Alamitos Race Course on Friday for an 11-day meeting before Santa Anita runs its signature meeting starting Dec. 26.