Judge nullifies horse trainer Bob Baffert’s New York suspension
Trainer Bob Baffert scored his first legal victory in the wake of the positive medication test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit on Wednesday when a New York federal judge said it was unconstitutional for the New York Racing Assn. to ban him from running horses in that state.
Brooklyn Judge Carol Bagley Amon said that NYRA acted improperly by suspending Baffert without holding a hearing “let alone a prompt one.”
Medina Spirit’s positive test for betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory except on race day, prompted Churchill Downs to ban the seven-time Kentucky Derby winner from running at its track for two years. After Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness Stakes and was not expected to run in the Belmont Stakes, NYRA announced the temporary ban with no time frame associated with it.
New York’s prestigious meet at Saratoga starts Thursday and Baffert has had at least one owner move their horse from his barn because he could not race at that track.
Baffert’s ban from Churchill Downs has not yet been challenged. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not announced the positive or given Baffert a hearing over the Medina Spirit drug positive, which could lead to the horse’s disqualification. The samples are undergoing further testing.
It is Baffert’s contention that Medina Spirit was administered the drug in an ointment to treat a skin rash on the horse’s hind quarter. When the case is filed and heard in Kentucky, it will likely be argued that the rule that prohibits betamethasone on race day is only applicable when administered in an inter-articular manner.
A scary spill that sent two jockeys and two horses to the ground at Los Alamitos on Sunday ended with all having non-life-threatening injuries.
“I have said from the beginning that, following the Kentucky Derby, there was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly,” said Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney. “This is one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs. I am grateful for a court system that protects an individual when his Constitutional rights have been trampled on by an entity like NYRA.”
David O’Rourke, NYRA’s president, said his organization is reviewing the decision “to determine legal options and next steps.”
“What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert’s actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport,” O’Rourke said. “We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation.”
Baffert has not publicly commented on his situation since days after he disclosed the presence of the positive test in early May.
“My hope is that this ruling will lead toward cooperation between the parties and not further division,” Robertson said. “Bob Baffert and NYRA have had a good relationship in the past. My hope is that they can get to that point again for the overall good of horse racing.”
Baffert has not been sanctioned in California, where both Santa Anita and Del Mar have indicated that they would wait until more is known and the process plays out. If Baffert is sanctioned in Kentucky, California would honor the ruling, which by statute would not be for more than 30 days. Churchill Down’s ban is by a private entity, not a state regulatory body.
Del Mar opens its summer meeting on Friday. Baffert has three horses entered for opening day.
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