Bob Baffert cannot run horses at Kentucky Derby after court denies injunction
Trainer Bob Baffert’s attempt to run horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby was once again denied when a federal district court in Louisville, Ky., denied his request for a preliminary injunction. Baffert is serving a two-year suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. after Medina Spirit tested positive for a legal medication, but not legal on race day, after winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Baffert and owner Amr Zedan can appeal Friday’s decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. However, it’s unclear whether that court would grant a temporary injunction while the case is waiting to be heard. Churchill Downs has placed a Feb. 28 deadline on when a horse can be transferred to another trainer should Baffert not be allowed to run.
Clark Brewster, the lead attorney for Baffert and Zedan, issued this statement: “We will consider our legal options. We are confident that when a neutral judge reviews the merits of this case a decision in Bob’s favor is likely.”
He told the website horseracingnation.com that he does intend to appeal.
Baffert transferred two of his best horses, Taiba and Messier, to his former assistant Tim Yakteen in late March of last year. Both ran in the Derby but were not a factor in the race. This year, Baffert has about five horses that could be Kentucky Derby contenders with two prep races yet to be run.
The case was heard by District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings in the Western District of Kentucky. In the ruling, Grady Jennings wrote: “Plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden to demonstrate that the court should impose a preliminary injunction against CDI’s suspension. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ renewed motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.”
Taiba makes a case for 3-year-old male horse of the year with win in the Malibu at Santa Anita. Country Grammer takes the San Antonio with Frankie Dettori in the saddle.
Grady Jennings was appointed by former President Trump and approved by the Senate in April 2018.
Baffert’s attorneys gave six reasons the injunction should be granted. Grady Jennings dismissed five of them but did agree that Baffert was not granted a prompt post-suspension hearing, which would be required because Churchill Downs is viewed as “state actor.”
“Churchill Downs is pleased that the Court denied Mr. Baffert’s demand for a preliminary injunction,” the company said in a statement, “and granted our motion to dismiss on all but one claim, and on that claim the court held that Mr. Baffert did not establish a likelihood of success on the merits. [Friday’s] opinion is a victory for the integrity of horse racing and we will continue to take action to protect the safety of our human and equine athletes.”
Baffert did serve a 90-day suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission last year, which excluded him from racing in all jurisdictions including California.
There is another, yet separate, hearing with the commission on March 1 to address the eventual disqualification of Medina Spirit.
Newgate wins the Lewis Stakes, which features all Bob Baffert horses. The trainer awaits a court decision about entering horses in the Kentucky Derby.
The relationship between Baffert’s attorneys and Grady Jennings has been contentious. The parties had agreed that each side would get two hours for an opening statement, witness testimony and a closing statement. But, on the first day of the hearing on Feb. 2, Brewster used all his time on the opening statement. That agreement was amended and the hearing lasted two days.
On Feb. 6, Brewster accused the judge of having an “ex parte” discussion with Churchill Downs without Brewster’s involvement. It was later agreed that no such discussion took place.
After the hearing, Brewster also charged the judge with having a conflict of interest, as her husband was given a consultant job with The Jockey Club after she was assigned the case. The Jockey Club is not a party to this litigation but has been critical of Baffert in the past. Brady Jennings did not recuse herself and the matter was essentially dropped.
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