Baffert, Medina Spirit Fate Likely to be Decided This Week

Chris Adams

In May of 2021 Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby. In the 9 months since, the Bob Baffert saga has the been the number 1 story in horse racing. That saga appears to be meeting an end this week.

Bob Baffert will have a hearing before the KHRC this week
Bob Baffert, trainer of Medina Spirit, has a hearing this week to hear the fate of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

2021 Kentucky Derby

Medina Spirit (inside) holds off Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality in the 2021 Kentucky Derby

Bob Baffert has had a ton of recent success in the Derby, but 2021 did not feel like his year. Concert Tour and Life is Good, widely seen as his top 2 prospects were off the Kentucky Derby trail. His last hope was an honest colt named Medina Spirit.

Despite his recent success in the Derby the Baffert charge was 5th in the betting behind Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, Rock Your World, and Known Agenda.

Baffert and Medina Spirit Win

Video courtesy of NBC Sports

Medina Spirit broke from the gate and ran to the front. Rock Your World was largely seen as the likely pace pressure failed to break effectively. Medina Spirit set a reasonable tempo and held off late runs from Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and the wide running Essential Quality.

Aftermath

Within 24 hours of the victory horse racing Twitter began to explode with rumblings that Medina had tested positive for an illegal substance. In weeks after Baffert was in damage control mode. He went on media tours and pleaded his innocence claiming that substance was a result of a topical ointment that he didn’t know was applied.

The rationale fell on many deaf ears as Baffert has a history of drug positives with horses and an equally long list of fantastical stories for how each happened.

Baffert Banned

In the months following the ban, but prior to any disqualification, Baffert was handed two bans. First came a ban from the New York Racing Association which ensured that Medina Spirit would not be able to run in the Belmont Stakes. This ban was later overturned by the courts because NYRA had not taken the same harsh action against other drug violators on their circuit.

The most damning ban came from Churchill Downs. They ruled that no horse trained by Baffert or his associates would be able to earn Kentucky Derby or Oaks points. This meant that owners hoping to compete in the most prestigious race in the sport would need to transfer training duties if they wanted to run.

Medina Spirit Dies

On December 6, 2021 the racing world learned of the passing of Medina Spirit. The horse had completed a 5 furlong workout and then died a “sudden death.” This is often associated with horses who have cardiac events. Like people, horses can have sudden heart attacks that cut their lives short, but speculation was rampant that this death could have been aided by a past of using performance enhancers.

The necropsy results have not yet been released, so at this point any claim that the death was specifically a result of drugs is totally speculative.

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

In late January word emerged as part of the hearings at NYRA that Kentucky may finally be ready to make a ruling in the Kentucky Derby case. Through testimony it was revealed that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission was scheduled to hear Baffert’s case on Monday, February 7, 2022. A full breakdown of the NYRA hearing can be found on the Paulick Report website.

If the KHRC is not satisfied with Baffert’s defense of the positive which was confirmed by a split sample, then they could proceed with disqualifying Medina Spirit from the Derby victory. Such a result would elevate Mandaloun to victory and give trainer Brad Cox his first ever Kentucky Derby victory.

Implications for Baffert

If the KHRC does not rescind their sanctions against Baffert, it would be a major blow to the most recognizable trainer in the game. First, it would mean that he would forfeit any and all prize money earned in the Kentucky Derby. In all honesty, this is a drop in the bucket given the size and success of his barn.

However, Baffert faces a much larger battle. He has several live contenders in the current Kentucky Derby pool. Corniche has been a star since making his debut at 2. Newgrange and Messier both won Derby preps convincingly in the last 2 weeks but were ineligible for the Derby points awarded to them. Along with these 3 it always seems that Baffert has a colt or two that don’t pick up steam until March.

If Medina Spirit is disqualified and the ban on Derby points is upheld it is likely that many of the owners of these top prospects will transfer their most talented runners to other barns meaning that he won’t be able to collect purse money for any of these talented runners.

Such a result could lead to Baffert becoming a much more regional trainer and exclusively running his stock on the California circuit where he is the dominant trainer year in and year out.

Unprecedented

If Medina Spirit is disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, he would be only the third runner in the 147 year history to be taken down. Maximum Security was most recently taken down in 2019 for interference in the stretch. This was done prior to the race going official and the result was reflected in the pari-mutuel payouts.

Medina Spirit would join 1968 winner Dancer’s Image as only the 2nd horse to be disqualified after the race went official due to drug violations. Unfortunately, in these cases there is no reparation for bettors who backed the new winner.

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