Doping-hit Derby winner fancied at Preakness as ointment blamed

Published May 12, 2021, 10:53 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

Medina Spirit runs on the track during the training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 28, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by ANDY LYONS / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Embattled trainer Bob Baffert cut a deal Tuesday allowing doping-hit Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit into the Preakness after admitting the horse’s anti-fungal ointment had contained a banned steroid.

US flat racing’s Triple Crown remained mired in scandal even as the draw for Saturday’s Preakness, the second leg of the treble, was unveiled with Medina Spirit installed as the 9-5 favorite by oddsmakers.

Baffert, banned from entering horses at Churchill Downs until a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation is complete, was only allowed to enter Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, the second choice at 5-2, at Pimilico after agreeing to tougher than normal drug testing and ensuring all results are made public.

Medina Spirit returned a positive race-day Derby doping test on May 1 for the steroid betamethasone, which is banned within two weeks of a race.

Should a second test from the sample also be positive, the colt would be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun awarded the victory.

“We are well aware of the public outcry and calls for action that have been the natural outcome of a medication positive in one of the most iconic races in our sport and we share the disappointment and concern,” Pimlico track owner 1/st Racing chief executive officer Craig Fravel said.

Baffert brought the horse to the Baltimore racetrack but was not assured a Preakness entry until he agreed to terms with the Maryland Jockey Club and track owner 1/st Racing.

Baffert agreed to testing and monitoring beyond that conducted by the Maryland Racing Commission “to ensure the fairness and integrity of… horses trained by Baffert,” a Preakness statement said.

Baffert’s Preakness entrants Medina Spirit and Concert Tour will have all test results and relevant medical records made public.

If a Baffert horse tests positive or has a higher than allowable level of a permitted theraputic substance, Baffert will withdraw the horse in question.

In Tuesday’s draw, Medina Spirit with jockey John Velazquez aboard was assigned the third gate from the rail in the field of 10 while Concert Tour, was drawn into the far outside gate and given the second-best odds at 5-2.

The Triple Crown concludes with next month’s Belmont Stakes in New York.

Nagged by repeated doping issues with champion horses in his Hall of Fame career, Baffert has the biggest controversy of them all after a victory which, if it stands, would give him seven career Derby wins, the most of any trainer in the event’s 147-race history.

In a statement released by his lawyer, Baffert said the anti-fungal medication Otomax was used on Medina Spirit to treat dermatitis on his hind end and it had betamethasone.

Baffert said he had no idea trace amounts of the banned substance were in the ointment that was used upon the colt once daily until Derby eve, saying his veterinarian recommended using Otomax.

“This has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage,” Baffert said

“While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results.

“I’ve been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment. I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent.”

‘No effect’ on outcome

Baffert said such small amounts of betamethasone would not have offered his horse a competitive advantage.

“Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race,” Baffert said. “Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”

Fravel said race officials had to respect Baffert’s right to due process in the Derby case out of “fundamental fairness” and racing rules.

“While the integrity of our sport is of utmost importance it is the responsibility of those in authority to follow the rules even as we seek to enforce them,” Fravel said. “We cannot make things up as we go along and we trust that the competitors, bettors and fans will understand the importance of adhering to that principle.”