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Bob Baffert suspended: Churchill Downs says Kentucky Derby is bigger than his biggest coach

By on June 3, 2021 0

“YOU mingled with the primitive forces of nature. And YOU will atone. —Arthur Jensen in Network

Jensen’s character in the 1976 Oscar-winning film was played brilliantly by Louisville native Ned Beatty, and let’s just say that Churchill Downs Incorporated channeled the famous on-screen screed of his homeboy when he spoke to thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert on Wednesday.

Baffert interfered with the primordial force that is the Kentucky Derby. And he will atone.

Churchill’s two-year suspension of Baffert was his own thunderous statement that America’s greatest race is bigger than America’s greatest coach. His cumulative history of 147 years trumps a man’s record in the Derby tradition. His iconic status means more than the most recognizable figure in sport.

Harassed by positive drug tests, Baffert is officially not invited to the 2022 and 23 derbies. The race will continue without the seven-time winner (for now). Some 150,000 people will attend. Mint juleps will be eaten, ornate hats will be worn, bets will be made. The derby will survive and thrive no matter who is involved in the two-minute race.

It was a powerful preemptive fire from Churchill. The track is not waiting for a disqualification decision from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on the positive drug tests of Derby winner Medina Spirit before taking action against the colt’s trainer. And it’s not about messing around with a half-measure sentence that would invite an awkward first Saturday in May for the next two years, when the legal battle over Medina Spirit’s Derby status may still be ongoing.

The fury of the racecourse towards Baffert is barely concealed. Not only is Churchill dismayed to see his signature event tainted by the second potential drug DQ in history (and the first since 1968), but he’s undoubtedly unhappy with the way it has unfolded.

Baffert’s legal team was the entity that disclosed the two positive Medina Spirit tests. The first bomb was dropped eight days after the race, at an impromptu press conference outside Baffert’s barn behind Churchill, and the second came via lawyer Clark Brewster on Wednesday. In an effort to shape the narrative, Baffert and his attorneys took the news out of Churchill’s control and did it their way.

Brewster’s turn on Wednesday was as follows: Medina Spirit’s positive testing for betamethasone, a licensed drug that must be out of a horse’s system on race day, was an innocent mistake. They were due to a topical corticosteroid, not an attempt to dope the animal. Brewster said the positive test did not come from an injection of the drug, which is standard practice to relieve swelling and joint discomfort and would be the most likely way to play with the system. “This is the balm,” Brewster said. Illustrated sports Wednesday. “Not the injectables.”

I took him through a longtime track vet on Wednesday, and he wasn’t convinced. “It is unlikely that an ointment will be absorbed through the skin and create a positive effect,” he said.

Brewster said he was eager to make this case before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which will rule on whether to disqualify Medina Spirit. Essentially, there is an attempt to raise a dust cloud of details that would obscure the results: the horse has tested positive for a banned substance, and this is the fifth time Baffert has tested positive with a top horse. year.

“My personal opinion is that he has pushed the boundaries,” said the vet. “The industry is trying to clean itself up, and you got a guy like that. The guy’s credibility is totally destroyed. It has five positive points, so it’s not like “Woe to me.” Has anyone else tested positive in the Derby?

The answer seems to be no. So, there shouldn’t be any obscuration. No excuse. No maneuver for pity. Test results are test results and rules are rules, so we’re done here.

Except we’re not done here, because in horse racing the argument rarely ends when the lab tests come back. And it certainly won’t end there when the biggest prize in the American race comes into play. If you thought it took a long time (a month) for the test results to be completed, wait until the lawyers are over. fully engaged.

Bob Baffert and his horse Medina Spirit

For now, Churchill and its affiliated racetracks have taken a hard line on Baffert. The same goes for the New York Racing Association, which suspended him indefinitely in May and effectively barred him from competing in Medina Spirit in the Belmont Stakes, the third stage of the Triple Crown which will be contested on Saturday. But in the balkanized world of racing, where there is no central management and no agreement on how to run the sport, Baffert is free to compete in other venues, including his home base in California.

An integral part of this patchwork sport is an inconsistent set of medication rules. The easiest way to correct these inconsistencies is to take the position of several other countries – no drugs, period. The old adage is “hay, water and oats”. These are the only things that go into racehorses in many places overseas.

But at the very least, consistency is the key. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority was created to help achieve this. Luckily, HISA President Charlie Scheeler met with members of the media on Wednesday, a session scheduled regardless of Medina Spirit news.

“One of the problems is that you have different types of penalties in different states for betamethasone, and we really need a uniform system,” Scheeler said. “I think it’s very confusing to the public that certain different levels of medication are allowed in some jurisdictions and not in others, especially because at this time horses are traveling and competing in a number of jurisdictions. .

“I think what we’ll bring to the table that I think would be very helpful in this type of situation is that the public will know the rules will be the same for every Triple Crown race. The tolerances will be the same, the permitted substances will be the same and we will also perform tests in the same way. “

National uniformity would be great. Until that happens, racetracks need to make their own statements about what they will and will not tolerate. Churchill Downs spoke forcefully on Wednesday, demanding that Bob Baffert atone for his interference in the primordial force that is the Kentucky Derby.

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