(Reuters) -Trainer Bob Baffert, who won a record-setting seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit this month, on Sunday said the dark bay colt had failed a drug test.
Baffert said a post-race sample provided by Medina Spirit had tested positive for 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone, over the legal limit in Kentucky racing.
Medina Spirit, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, had secured a half-length victory over Mandaloun in the 19-horse Kentucky Derby on May 1.
Baffert's camp were informed of the news by Kentucky officials on Saturday, but the 68-year-old denied giving the horse illegal substances and said the positive test was "the biggest gut punch in racing."
"I was totally shocked when I heard this news," Baffert told a news conference. "I'm still trying to absorb it. I am the most scrutinised trainer. The last thing I want to do is something that would jeopardize the greatest sport," he said.
"This shouldn't have happened. There's a problem somewhere. It didn't come from us. It's such an injustice to the horse. I don't feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged."
A sample collected at the same time as the one that came back positive will now be tested to confirm the result.
Churchill Downs said it had suspended Baffert from entering horses at its famed racetrack and said that if the positive test is upheld, Medina Spirit's results will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the Kentucky Derby winner.
"Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate. Churchill Downs will not tolerate it," the company said in a statement.
"We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's investigation before taking further steps."
Last month, Baffert successfully appealed against a 15-day suspension given to him by the Arkansas Racing Commission after two of his horses had tested positive for a banned substance.
Baffert said Medina Spirit had not yet been officially disqualified from the Derby and that he would launch his own investigation.
"I'm going to fight it," he added. "There are problems in racing, but it's not Bob Baffert. I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but why is it happening to me?"
In 2015, Baffert-trained American Pharoah became the first horse since 1978 to win U.S. thoroughbred racing's coveted Triple Crown. Baffert celebrated another Triple Crown in 2018 with Justify.
Horse racing in the United States has come under fire in recent years for the sport's widespread use of drugs, which has contributed to the high-profile deaths of horses at tracks around the country.
Animal rights group PETA said regulators should permanently ban Baffert, whose horses have failed five drug tests in a little more than a year.
"The time has long passed for regulators to stop protecting Bob Baffert with minimal fines and finally kick him out of racing," said PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo.
Scrutiny of the sport led to the passage of the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act last year, which seeks to address inconsistencies in drug testing and create a uniform national standard of rules and regulations in the sport.
The law goes into effect in July of next year.
(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles;Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)