Churchill Downs goes after suspended trainer Bob Baffert with new policy

FILE - In this April 28, 2021, file photo, horse trainer Bob Baffert watches workouts at Churchill Downs.
Horse trainer Bob Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs for two years after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Churchill Downs’ quest to make an example of trainer Bob Baffert for medication infractions escalated Friday when it was announced that any points earned by horses “directly or indirectly employed, supervised, or advised by a suspended trainer” in the leadup to the Kentucky Derby would not be counted. Baffert, who was suspended for two years from running at the Louisville track, is the only trainer who fits that description.

Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs on June 2 despite not being formally charged with any violation in this year’s Kentucky Derby by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. On May 9, an emotional Baffert announced at his barn that he had been advised by the KHRC that Medina Spirit, the winner of this year’s most famous horse race, tested positive for betamethasone, a medicine that is legal except on race day. Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory that is not considered a performance enhancer, however is it generally accepted that if a horse is without irritation or pain, it can run better.

The hall of fame trainer initially said he had no idea how the drug got into the horse, but two days later said he discovered it was administered in an ointment to treat a rash on the horse. Since then, Baffert and the KHRC have been involved in legal fights over the testing of the remaining samples, which has resulted in a delay in filing charges.

Churchill Downs made the announcement about qualifying points without mentioning Baffert when it announced its Road to the Kentucky Derby races Friday. The first one that could affect Baffert is Oct. 1 in the American Pharoah at Santa Anita. The disqualifying decision also applies to Kentucky Oaks races for fillies.

The move by Churchill would prevent Baffert from training horses up to the Derby, gaining qualifying points, and then switching the horse to another barn.

Churchill made the move not just because of the Medina Spirit medication positive but also a series of other violations over a year. Baffert received four fines, two in Arkansas in a case in which contamination was the cause, and one in California and Kentucky.

New York also took a swipe at Baffert on Friday when it announced that it issued a notice of hearing and charges against Baffert and another trainer, unrelated to Baffert.

The charge is that Baffert engaged in “conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the sport … or potentially injurious to the health and safety of horses and riders.” None of the Baffert medication violations occurred in New York.

New York initially announced its suspension of Baffert after the Preakness Stakes and before the Belmont Stakes, after it was clear that Medina Spirit did not intend to run the final leg of the Triple Crown. Baffert had the ruling by the New York Racing Assn. overturned when a federal judge said the ban was unconstitutional without due process.

“The Federal Court in New York enjoined NYRA from enforcing its suspension of Mr. Baffert pending a conclusion of that suit,” said Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney. “That suit has not been concluded. As such, this is an improper attempt by NYRA to circumvent the Judge’s ruling. We will address it accordingly.”

Robertson does not represent Baffert in the matter regarding Churchill Downs because his firm also represents the track.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.