Medina Spirit stripped of 2021 Kentucky Derby win, trainer Bob Baffert suspended

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Medina Spirit was stripped of its victory at the 2021 Kentucky Derby following a formal hearing into a positive drug test under trainer Bob Baffert, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced on Monday.

Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first last May, but shortly later tested positive for betamethasone, a legal steroid that is banned in the two weeks leading up to a race. The horse died of a heart attack during a training session at Santa Anita Park in December.

Medina Spirit is now only the second horse in the 146-year history of the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified for a banned substance. Dancer's Image was DQ'd in 1968, ceding the victory to Forward Pass. Maximum Security was disqualified in 2019 because of interference.

Mandaloun, the horse that finished a half-length behind, has now been declared the winner of the 2021 Triple Crown race. The horse's owners will receive the $1.8 million purse rather than Baffert. There will be no refunds or payouts for bettors.

Baffert is suspended for 90 days running from March 8 through June 5 as part of the commission's decision and faces a $7,500 fine. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes are in May and the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Baffert will not be allowed access to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission facilities during the suspension. Horses owned or trained by Bafford will be denied "pending transfer to persons acceptable to the stewards."

Baffert's attorneys said in a statement they plan to appeal.

"This ruling represents an egregious departure from both the facts and the law, but the numerous public statements by KHRC officials over the last several months have made perfectly clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we ever sat down for a hearing before the three stewards, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as the racing director at Turfway Park. We will appeal, and we will prevail when the facts and rules are presented to detached, neutral decisionmakers."

Medina Spirit would have won with or without the "trace amount of betamethasone detected" that was determined to have not impacted the horse either way, attorneys said.

Baffert acknowledges applying ointment

DEL MAR, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Trainer Bob Baffert looks on in the winners circle after his horse Corniche won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar Race Track on November 05, 2021 in Del Mar, California. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
DEL MAR, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Trainer Bob Baffert looks on in the winners circle after his horse Corniche won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar Race Track on November 05, 2021 in Del Mar, California. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Baffert, 69, initially denied administering the drug in the days after the race, but eventually acknowledged he applied an ointment containing bethamethasone daily to the horse. That included the day before the race.

A second test in June confirmed the drug in Medina Spirit's system. Baffert's lawyers argued that the rule only applies to injections "intra-articularly" and not by ointment. Additional tests showed a secondary substance that was found only in the ointment he said he gave Medina Spirit. Attorneys reiterated in a statement on Monday that this was an "undisputed fact established at the hearing" and it was permissible under the rules.

Baffert is a Hall of Fame trainer and was already banned from racing at the track and others owned by Churchill Downs for two years. The race track organization cited five positive tests over a year as reasoning. He had 29 positive tests by horses before the news broke about Medina Spirit.

It was Baffert's seventh Kentucky Derby victory. That number now drops to six. A hearing was conduction in late January by the New York Racing Association to ban him from those tracks as well.