The horse racing world was stunned this weekend as legendary trainer Bob Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test. Baffert, who claimed his seventh derby win earlier this month, is now under fire following the New York Times report on the colt’s failed test. Horses trained by Baffert have reportedly failed five tests in the last year.
In response Baffert is in the middle of a damage-controlling media blitz, which has become more hilarious than anyone thought possible. It began with a refrain that has become all too common in recent months: Blaming backlash over potentially drugging horses to gain a competitive edge on “cancel culture.”
Bob Baffert blamed "cancel culture" after his horse, Medina Spirit, who won the Kentucky Derby, failed its post-race drug test.— Mediaite (@Mediaite) May 10, 2021
"We live in a different world now. This America's different." pic.twitter.com/bsQeiV7oXi
This remarkable self-own ostensibly positions Baffert and saying “drugging horses is fine, y’all are just too sensitive about it.” That is, unless he has a different definition of “cancel culture” as everyone else. Baffert has been training horses since 1979, largely without issue, only recently being called out on the possibility he’s been injecting his horses with illicit steroids to create winners. Over the span of his four decade career a total of 30 horses have registered positive drug tests on Baffert’s watch, with four in the last year.
A 2018 incident in Santa Anita was dismissed as “feed contamination” after Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for increased levels of scopolamine, a motion sickness drug. Then in 2020 the case of two horses that returned positive tests for lidocaine in Arkansas, both trained by Baffert, were similarly dismissed. This time after it was believed the medicine was accidentally transferred from an assistant trainer using the drug themself.
Medina Spirit’s positive test is shining a new light on these past issues, and the trainer is not happy. Baffert’s Churchill Downs suspension is pending a full investigation, but rather than letting the process play out, Baffert is on the attack. This time pinning the blame on “cancel culture” and rampant unchecked stable urination.
Baffert says one test issue was created by a groom urinating in the stall after the groom had been taking cough medicine. Horse ate some of the hay.— rickbozich (@rickbozich) May 10, 2021
Time will tell if eating pee hay is indeed a plausible reason why horses would return positive tests, but Baffert sure wants you to think so. In fact, he’s even used this exact same excuse before.
Baffert has argued this before.— Dalton Godbey (@DaltonTVNews) May 10, 2021
In July of 2020, his horse Merneith tested positive for dextorphan after a second place finish at Del Mar.
Baffert appealed the positive test claiming that an employee was taking cough medicine that accidentally contaminated the horse. https://t.co/POapre0zHL
Personally, if I were a billionaire race horse owner I wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea that the trainer I hired was having my horses eat pee hay, but I digress.
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for elevated levels of betamethasone, a common steroidal treatment for arthritis in horses. However, Baffert claims the horse was never treated with the drug — raising questions about how it got in its system. An independent investigation is underway, but Baffert wants you to know that despite there being issues in horse racing, the issue is not him. “There’s problems in racing. But it’s not Bob Baffert,” Baffert said.
However, there does seem to be an issue. The recent positive test of Medina Spirit comes less than a year after Baffert himself vowed to have stricter procedures in place to avoid positive tests arising under his watch.
“I am very aware of the several incidents this year concerning my horses and the impact it has had on my family, horse racing and me,” Mr. Baffert said in a statement. “I want to have a positive influence on the sport of horse racing. Horses have been my life, and I owe everything to them and the tremendous sport in which I have been so fortunate to be involved.”
The outcome of wider testing may not be available for several weeks, throwing the entire Triple Crown process into disarray. Baffert is vowing to run two horses at the Preakness, regardless of what Churchill Downs plans to do, and has no intentions of stopping Medina Spirit from running, either this weekend, or at the Belmont in four weeks.
The recent investigation could strip Medina Spirit of the 2021 Kentucky Derby victory, making it the third horse in the race’s history to win and be stripped of the title. If that should occur then second place Mandaloun would be named champion.
Update: After 24 hrs of conspiracy theories, Baffert acknowledged that Medina Spirit had been treated with drugs, which he previously said didn’t happen.
New statement from Bob Baffert acknowledges Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax, which contains betamethasone. So much for conspiracy theories.— Tim Sullivan (@TimSullivan714) May 11, 2021