You do not get to the top of the training game without having considerable ability and intelligence. No one can doubt that Bob Baffert is in the elite group, and may well be the most successful trainer in history. There is not a trainer with more wins in the Kentucky Derby. One of the traits of successful trainers is an attention to detail. To racing aficionados, Todd Pletcher, following in the footsteps of his mentor D. Wayne Lukas, is the epitome of the detail-oriented trainer.
So how has Bob Baffert responded to reports that Medina Spirit, thus far the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, tested positive for a drug exceeding the legal limit?
- Acknowledging that word of the drug positive, for betamethasone, was already out there, he had a press conference on Sunday morning to “get ahead of the story;”
- He stated that Medina Spirit had never been administered the medication;
- He acknowledged last year’s positive for the filly Gamine, but said it was administered outside the recommended withdrawal time;
- His attorney, who was present, did not know the permissible level for the medication in a post-race drug test;
- On the following day Baffert appeared on a Fox “News,” where he stated the horse had never been given the drug and that he would never give the medication to a horse;
- He went on to say that the horse was the victim of “cancel culture;”
- On Tuesday, he acknowledged that Medina Spirit had been treated for a skin irritation with a topical ointment that contained betamethasone.
So a trainer who has been accused of four drug positives in the preceding year, and was disqualified from Churchill’s Kentucky Oaks, could not get even the most basic facts straight with at least a day to prepare. He did not call his veterinarian to see if the horse had been treated with the medication? He has vets who were unaware that Gamine had tested positive the preceding year for the same overage? He could not keep his facts straight with “journalists” on Fox and used an incomprehensible “cancel culture” to attempt to explain why his horse may have been singled out?
Baffert and/or his lawyer have sought to minimize the significance of the amount of betamethasone found in the horse’s blood, comparing it to a few grains of salt found in the ocean or, alternatively, complaining that the regulatory levels are too strict. Fortunately there are people in racing who know what they are talking about.
Dr. Mary Scollay is the Executive Director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and, fortuitously for those concerned about integrity in racing, an appointee to the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Standing Committee under the recently enacted Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. In an interview with Thoroughbred Daily News, she acknowledges that 21 picograms of the drug is a small amount, but that was the amount found in a milliliter of blood and a horse could have “in excess of 50,000 milliliters” of blood. Also, “21 picograms is consistent with the intra-articular administration of nine milligrams into a single fetlock joint at less than 72 hours prior to sampling,” although she is not saying that is what occurred.
In addition to having multiple drug positives in a year, let’s not forget that his 2018 Derby (and Triple Crown) winner Justify had an overage following his win in the Santa Anita Derby, a race he needed to win just to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The matter was not adjudicated in time to affect his participation at Churchill, and he ended up being exonerated in a widely-criticized (and secret) decision by the California Horse Racing Board.
Then there were a rash of mysterious deaths in his barn several years ago. It turns out that he was giving horses thyroxine, a potent medicine for which there was no demonstrated need. Again, there was no connection determined between the fatalities and the drug.
Baffert’s response to this current crisis is one he has employed before, and follows the approach utilized by notable politicians: First, deny everything even though you do not have a factual basis for it. When caught, do not take responsibility for either the initial false statements or the occurrence. Then, find someone else to blame.
I am sick of the Baffert bullshit. As perhaps the most recognizable figure in horse racing, he has a higher obligation to the sport and the industry to keep up with this nonsense. I understand why Pimlico could not bar him from participating in the Preakness, but I wish he had the decency to not take part. But given his long record of arrogance, that was not going to happen.