Kentucky Horse Racing Commission denies Bob Baffert’s request for stay of suspension

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In a full board meeting on Friday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission denied trainer Bob Baffert’s request for a stay of his 90-day suspension.

The board voted 10-0 to deny Baffert’s request for a stay. Three board members abstained.

The 90-day suspension was handed down by KHRC stewards on Feb. 21 in the ruling disqualifying Medina Spirit from his 2021 Kentucky Derby victory after lab tests showed 21 picagrams of betamethasone in the colt’s system. The presence of the drug violated KHRC rules. Baffert was also assessed a $7,500 fine.

KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil denied a request for an immediate stay of the suspension. Baffert appealed that ruling to the entire commission, which met by Zoom on Friday. Attorneys for each side were allowed 10 minutes to present arguments.

Clark Brewster, an attorney from Tulsa, Okla., argued on behalf of Baffert that not granting a stay would be a “death blow” to the trainer. Brewster argued that Baffert would be forced to close his barn and disperse his Thoroughbreds currently in training.

Brewster claimed that a stay in these matters had never been denied. He asked the commission to not “impose punishment until we have a clear understanding of the stewards’ ruling.”

He also argued the KHRC rule was specific to injections, not the topical cream (Otomax), which Baffert said resulted in the positive test. Brewster argued that a threshold has not been set for the existence of betamethasone in a horse’s system. He claimed that in 29 years of racing in Kentucky, Baffert’s horses had tested positive just once before.

Jennifer Wolsing, attorney for the KHRC, opened her remarks by reciting Baffert’s history of violations, focusing on the positive drug tests for lidocaine by Gamine and Charlatan after their wins on Arkansas Derby Day at Oaklawn Park on May 2, 2020. Those wins were later restored.

Wolsing noted that Gamine then tested positive for betamethasone after running in the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4, 2020. At the time, Baffert issued a public statement promising to change veterinarians, provide better training for his employees and do a better job personally overseeing his barn. Wolsing said Baffert had failed to keep any of those promises.

As for KHRC rules not setting a threshold for betamethasone, Wolsing argued that the mere presence of the drug is a violation, regardless of how it was administered. She therefore urged the board to deny the request for the stay.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s request for a stay of his 90-day racing suspension in Kentucky now moves into the court system, with a hearing scheduled for March 17.
Trainer Bob Baffert’s request for a stay of his 90-day racing suspension in Kentucky now moves into the court system, with a hearing scheduled for March 17.

Baffert’s suspension was to begin March 8, but Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate has scheduled a hearing for March 17 on Baffert’s request for a stay and a preliminary injunction. Wingate had urged the KHRC and Baffert to reach an agreement on the stay before his hearing. Wingate has indicated he planned to issue his decision on March 21.

“KHRC’s decision is a sudden, arbitrary departure from its own 100-year precedent and from the general practice of courts everywhere in the United States,” said Brewster in a prepared statement released after Friday’s ruling. “Let’s be clear: This is part of a continuing coordinated attack against Bob by powerful forces that are rife with ethical and business conflicts and that want to keep Bob’s horses from competing against theirs at the track. We look forward to obtaining a stay in an impartial, unbiased court of law.”

Facing a two-year ban by Churchill Downs, Baffert’s horses are currently not eligible to receive points toward qualification for this year’s Kentucky Derby, to be run May 7 at the track. Baffert has sued Churchill Downs seeking to overturn the ban.

Baffert has won the race a record six times — Silver Charm in 1997; Real Quiet in 1998; War Emblem in 2002; American Pharoah in 2015, Justify in 2018 and Authentic in 2020.

With Medina Spirit’s disqualification, Mandaloun was declared the winner of the 2021 race. Medina Spirit collapsed and died after a workout at Santa Anita Park on on Dec. 6, 2021. A necropsy found no definite cause of death.

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