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Kentucky Derby winner under scrutiny after positive post-race test

Medina Spirit (right): won the Kentucky Derby this month
Medina Spirit (right): won the Kentucky Derby this monthCredit: Rob Carr

US racing has been plunged into another high-profile medication scandal after Medina Spirit returned a post-race blood sample for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone after his win in the Kentucky Derby, which his trainer Bob Baffert labelled "the biggest gut-punch I've had".

Baffert was immediately suspended from being able to make entries at Churchill Downs "given the seriousness of the alleged offence" and, in a statement, the racecourse added it "will not tolerate" failure to comply with rules and medication protocols.

In a press conference hosted outside his barn at Churchill Downs on Sunday, Baffert, US racing's most recognisable trainer whose past stars have included Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, stated Medina Spirit had returned a post-race sample containing 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone.

Churchill Downs said: "It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky's equine medication protocols. The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so.

"To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit's results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.

"Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardises 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.

"Given the seriousness of the alleged offence, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert from entering any horses [here]. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's investigation before taking further steps."

Medina Spirit will not be disqualified while results of the split blood sample are analysed, while Baffert has demanded hair testing plus DNA analysis of the positive sample, claiming the horse had never been treated with the medication and that he had been "wronged".

Bob Baffert: responsible for first three in Kentucky Derby betting
Bob Baffert: 'This is the biggest gut-punch I've had in racing and it's for something I didn't do'

"This is the biggest gut-punch I've had in racing and it's for something I didn't do," Baffert told reporters. "It's an injustice. I don't know what's going on in racing now but it's not right.

"I cannot believe that I'm here. I don't feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged. We're going to do a complete investigation. He's a great horse and he doesn't deserve this."

Medina Spirit's rags-to-riches story from being a $1,000 yearling to winner of the biggest race in America last Saturday for owner Amr Zedan had added extra colour to his success, and put Baffert out on his own with seven wins in the Classic.

However, the trainer has had to face repeated scrutiny of his operation after a string of positive tests for horses in his care over the last 18 months, leading to him releasing a statement before last year’s Breeders’ Cup in which he pledged "to do better".

Nevertheless, the trainer lashed out at what he felt was undue focus on his runners and questioned how it was possible for Medina Spirit to have tested positive for a banned raceday substances when, according to the trainer, strict hygiene standards were enforced in his stables.

"There's definitely something going on – why is this happening to me?" he said. "There are problems in racing but it's not Bob Baffert. We’re going to fight this.

"I know I'm the most scrutinsed trainer and have millions of eyes on me – I don't have a problem with that. The last thing I want to do is jeopardise the greatest two minutes in sport. This is terrible but we have to deal with it now.

"I'm not going to speculate and I have no idea where it came from. We're aware of being extra careful – being clean, washing our hands – so for this to happen at the biggest day, this really hurts. I don't know if there's a problem somewhere but it didn't come from us."

Only last month, Baffert was successful in overturning a 15-day ban and disqualification of two of his horses – Gamine and Charlatan – after they had returned samples containing the illicit raceday medication lidocaine, which was attributed to cross-contamination from a pain-relief patch worn by the trainer's assistant. Baffert received a $10,000 fine instead.

Justify with Bob Baffert at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Kentucky
Justify with Bob Baffert at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in KentuckyCredit: Coolmore

Alongside those failed tests, Baffert had faced high-profile hearings into post-race positives for Justify after he won the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, stablemate Hoppertunity, and following Gamine's third in last year's Kentucky Oaks.

The cases against Justify and Hoppertunity were dismissed by the California Horse Racing Board, while Baffert was fined $1,500 and Gamine disqualified from the Kentucky Oaks after the trainer waived his right to a hearing in front of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

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Read more:

Medina Spirit takes thrilling Kentucky Derby for record-breaking Bob Baffert

'I really don't feel we did anything wrong' – Baffert wins medication ban appeal

Bob Baffert vows to prevent further positive tests after 'difficult' year

Bob Baffert facing new hearing after positive test on Merneith at Del Mar

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Peter ScargillDeputy industry editor

Published on 9 May 2021inInternational

Last updated 18:27, 11 May 2021