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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Baffert again in spotlight for wrong reasons

by Wally Hall | May 11, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

For now, Bob Baffert is the winningest trainer in Kentucky Derby history with seven victories.

He's also currently suspended from racing at Churchill Downs, and there's a huge cloud over him and his last win after Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, an inflammatory drug, that is not allowed in Kentucky for 14 days before a race.

Here's the technical part: After the Derby, three vials of blood and two of urine were taken from the winner. Two of the vials of blood and one of the urine were shipped to a laboratory in Colorado, where the drug was discovered.

A second test, called a split test, of the remaining vials will be conducted at a different lab.

If the results show the drug again, Baffert and Medina Spirit will be disqualified, becoming only the second horse in the 147-year history of the Derby disqualified for drugs. The first was Dancer's Image, trained by Lou Cavalaris Jr., in 1968.

This latest failed test shocked the thoroughbred racing world.

The Preakness post position draw was moved from Monday to this afternoon, and it is being pointed out this is the fourth time within a year -- and fifth since 2018 -- that a Baffert horse has failed a drug test.

Baffert, the most powerful trainer in the world, denies all of them vehemently.

"There's problems in racing," he said Sunday morning. "But it is not Bob Baffert."

Baffert's problems began last year on the final day of racing at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort when Charlatan, winner of a division of the Arkansas Derby, and Gamine, an allowance race winner, tested positive for lidocaine.

In October, Gamine failed another drug test after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks. Now it's the Kentucky Derby winner.

Last month, the Arkansas Racing Commission decided the amount of drugs in Charlatan and Gamine didn't affect the outcome of the races and reinstated both as winners. It did fine Baffert $5,000.

Baffert's excuse for the lidocaine was that it had come off a pain-relieving patch worn by an assistant trainer.

In 2018, it was discovered Triple Crown winner Justify had failed a drug test after the Santa Anita Derby.

Medina's Spirit will get a chance to redeem himself Saturday in the Preakness. Until then, one of the favorite subjects will be how could a mildly bred horse, which sold as a yearling for $1,000 and $35,000 as a 2-year-old, win the Kentucky Derby?

Does Baffert have some secret training method that has made him one the most successful trainers in modern history?

Probably not.

His success in the past four decades has made him worth a reported $35 million.

According to the New York Times, he has had about 30 incidents of failed drug tests from his horses in his career.

He has clients who are billionaires. They either breed or buy the best horses in the world.

If Baffert has one obvious talent it is putting the right jockey on the right horse at the right time. He controls the jockey colony because his horses run in the biggest races.

Baffert has said he nor anyone who works for him uses betamethasone.

The former quarter-horse trainer is right about one thing: There is a problem in horse racing.

Last year 29 trainers, veterinarians and assorted others in the racing world were federally indicted for doping horses.

Until his due process is finished and a second drug test is analyzed, Baffert is innocent, but he remains suspended by Churchill Downs.


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