Kentucky Derby Winner Medina Spirit Tests Positive for Illegal Substance

Chris Adams

Medina Spirit’s post race blood work contained the anti-inflammatory betamethasone. This puts the Kentucky Derby prize in limbo. Trainer Bob Baffert is also facing punishment for the test.

The Kentucky Derby Test

It is standard procedure for horses to get tested for possible performance enhancers on a regular basis. Horses are tested for a number of reasons. Tests are conducted pre and post race as well as when returning from injury.

Some tests are done via blood work while others are done through a urine sample. Some urine tests are also backed up by blood work for confirmation.

The test in question is the race day sample of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, which found 21 picograms of betamethasone. This is more than double the legal amount permitted in the state of Kentucky.

What is Betamethasone?

Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory. Objection to the drug has little to do with its ability to improve a horses performance. This is especially true with such small amounts.

The concern over the drug stems from the fact that it can potentially be used to mask pain. This can lead to unsound horses racing. Pain masking is a risk to the animal, its jockey, and the others in the race.

What is a Picogram?

A picogram is 1 one trillionth of a gram.

Would It Have Changed The Outcome of The Kentucky Derby?

The big question that always comes up with positive results is would it have changed the outcome. The simple answer is yes.

The result of any horse race is based on a series of interconnected events. A horse being removed from any race or running to a different level would almost certainly change the final result.

It could be argued that in the case of Medina Spirit’s 2021 Derby this is amplified by the race he ran. So many of the related events are dictated by the pace setter in a race and the fractions they set. Had Medina Spirit not run or run differently, the entire pace scenario might have been different. This could have greatly impacted a number of runners in the race.

Churchill Downs’ Response

Churchill Downs reported the positive to Bob Baffert. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will now conduct a full investigation into the test. This includes a test of what is known as a “split sample”. The split sample is basically a backup taken at the time of the test to ensure there was no error.

Official punishment cannot be levied against Baffert until the split sample confirms the positive. However, Churchill Downs suspended the trainer from entering any horses at their track in the interim.

Baffert’s Explanation

Bob Baffert held an impromptu press conference at his barn on Mother’s Day to defend himself. His explanation was that he didn’t have one. He alluded in the media scrum that their was something surreptitious in the testing procedure that specifically targeted him.

Baffert vowed to be transparent and forthcoming with the racing commission. The trainer also said he would conduct his own investigation.

The History of Baffert and Positives

Bob Baffert is no stranger to these types of accusations. With success almost always brings on greater scrutiny. For years people have pointed to his unprecedented success as proof that he must be “juicing”.

Unfortunately, he has also left quite a trail of high profile positives, all of which he claims are false. These do little to clear his name.

The over 20 positives and his defense of all of them has even been enough for one popular racing podcast to label trainer “Tough Luck Bob”.

Santa Anita Derby (2018)

Justify tested positive following the Santa Anita Derby en route to the Triple Crown. Upon appeal it was determined that the contamination was based on environmental exposure rather than deliberate administration.

Arkansas (2020)

In 2020 two of his stars, Gamine and Charlatan tested positive in Arkansas for a drug called Lidocaine. The story was that his assistant trainer who worked with the horses was wearing a pain relieving patch for back pain which contained the drug. Through the assistant’s touching of the patch while he worked with the animals, he was transferring the drug to them.

His appeal was awarded and all punishments were overturned except for a fine.

Kentucky Oaks (2020)

In 2020 Gamine tested positive for a second time. This time it was the drug Medina Spirit was found to have in his system, betamethasone. Baffert admitted to giving the legal medication to Gamine in the weeks leading up to the race. For the record he has stated he never treated Medina Spirit with it at any point.

He also claims that they stopped giving it to her four days prior to the safe window of withdrawal. Each medication lasts in horses for a defined period of time and trainers can use therapeutics as long as all traces are gone by race day causing them to closely monitor these withdrawal periods.

Baffert said that there was no way the drug should have still been in her system on race day. Regardless, the result was upheld and Baffert did not appeal. He was fined and Gamine was disqualified as the winner.

What comes next?

A timeline of upcoming events is messy and includes several events that could end up happening in different orders, but generally, here are the next steps in the process.

The Kentucky Derby

If the split sample is negative there will be no change to anything. If the split sample comes back positive as well, there are a number of ramifications.

First, according to the guidelines established Baffert could face a suspension of up to 60 days and a significant fine.

Second, Medina Spirit would be disqualified as the Derby winner and the award would be bestowed upon the runner up. This includes all purse money and hasn’t been done since 1968.

Mandoloun trained by Brad Cox came in second. If a disqualification were handed down it would give the Kentucky native his first ever Kentucky Derby training victory in a rather unceremonious way.

What About My Bets?

Those who had Mandaloun on top of their wagers may be jumping for joy at the idea of disqualification. Unfortunately, the purse money is the only change that would be made.

Betting results were made official on the day of the race and the outcome does not get applied to any wagers.

The Preakness

Pimlico has already reacted to the news and has not yet ruled out banning Medina Spirit from running. They proactively delayed the post draw a day to gather more information before making any decisions.

If they were to ban Medina Spirit, the next question would be if that ban applies trainer Bob Baffert or just the horse. Baffert is slated to run Concert Tour as well who could very well be the favorite at post time for the race.

If a suspension were to be passed down to Baffert, it would not be unheard of for Gary and Mary West, the owner’s of Concert Tour to assign him to another trainer making him eligible to run.

The Triple Crown

There is one other significant potential Preakness ramification with this situation. Medina Spirit is currently the Derby winner. If Pimlico bans the horse and he is exonerated, the track would be responsible for denying the Triple Crown.

On the other hand, if Medina Spirit were to be disqualified Brad Cox has already stated that Mandaloun will not run in the Preakness. Given that he would become the Kentucky Derby champion, the Triple Crown dream will die with him not even running in Maryland.

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