Horse racing-Medina Spirit's failed drug test confirmed, trainer suspended

·3-min read

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) -A second post-race drug test for Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit confirmed a prohibited substance was present, a lawyer for the horse's trainer said on Wednesday, raising the possibility the dark bay colt might be disqualified.

While a decision on whether to disqualify Medina Spirit will depend on the outcome of a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation, Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) moved swiftly by banning the colt's Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert for two years.

In making the ruling, CDI said it could no longer overlook Baffert's history of drug testing failures.

In just over a year, five Baffert trained horses have failed drug tests.

"Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby," said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI in a statement.

"Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility."

The suspension prohibits Baffert, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables, from entering horses in races on CDI tracks.

Baffert's lawyer confirmed earlier on Wednesday a second sample taken from Medina Spirit found the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone at a prohibited level.

Baffert has previously said Otomax, an anti-fungal ointment to treat dermatitis, could be the source of Medina Spirit's positive test and the trainer's lawyer said further testing is being conducted.

"There is other testing that is being conducted, including DNA testing. We expect this additional testing to confirm that the presence of the betamethasone was from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not an injection," attorney Craig Robertson told Reuters in an email.

"At the end of the day, we anticipate this case to be about the treatment of Medina Spirit's skin rash with Otomax."

Baffert, who won a record seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit on May 1, previously said the horse developed dermatitis on his hind end in April and his veterinarian recommended daily use of Otomax to prevent it from spreading.

Medina Spirit's initial sample after the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs showed 21 picograms of betamethasone, over the legal limit in Kentucky racing, and Robertson said the second test confirmed findings of the substance at 25 picograms.

The racetrack has previously said that if a second round of testing showed the presence of betamethasone, Medina Spirit would be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun would be declared the winner.

Despite the original positive test, Medina Spirit was cleared to run in the May 15 Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, where he finished third behind Rombauer.

Animal rights groups urged both CDI and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to take strong action, calling for Medina Spirit to be stripped of the victory and Baffert to be handed a lifetime ban.

"We call on Churchill Downs to show no mercy and permanently ban Bob Baffert and his horses from the Kentucky Derby and all of Churchill Downs’ tracks," said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action.

"It’s time to end the cheating and medication abuse in the fastest two minutes in sports and an example must be made.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Steve Keating; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Clare Fallon and Toby Davis)