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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has nullified New York Racing Association's (NYRA) suspension of famed thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert, saying the organisation failed to provide him a post-suspension hearing.
The ruling was a significant win for the trainer, one of the most successful and recognisable figures in the sport, and allows for him to compete in New York state races again, effective immediately.
In May, NYRA barred Baffert-trained horse Medina Spirit from running in the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of the triple crown, after the Kentucky Derby winner failed a drug test.
A month later, Baffert sued NYRA over the suspension, which barred him from running horses at state racetracks.
In her ruling on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon wrote that NYRA was required to give Baffert a "prompt" hearing after the suspension, and he was likely to show the suspension violated his constitutional due process rights.
"NYRA has held no hearing — let alone a prompt one," she wrote. "With so much on the line, Baffert was entitled to (at least) a 'prompt' post-deprivation hearing which should have already occurred."
NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a statement that the association was reviewing its "legal options and next steps."
"Mr. Baffert’s actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation," O'Rourke said.
Baffert's attorney, W. Craig Robertson, said in a statement he hoped the ruling would "lead toward cooperation between the parties."
"There was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly," said Robertson. "This is one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs."
The Saratoga racing season begins Thursday.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Stephen Coates)